Meeting some tree people

June 15, 2014 | Comments: 3 | Categories:

So what’s so special about trees? And why is it always the old and gnarly ones I go on about?

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It’s fairly obvious to anyone looking at my work that I have a deep and enduring interest in trees – the origins of which I’ve talked about in other posts.  Over the last five years or so, my drawings have developed in parallel to my knowledge of and appreciation for trees, their history, ecology and our cultural links with them.

The more I read and understand about them as a subject, the better I feel that creative connection which is essential for me to make good work. There are some key books which have influenced me, but even better than reading is meeting real people sharing their expertise and passion.

So last week I went along to the Ancient Tree Forum's Highland Gathering in Perthshire to meet some proper tree people and hear talks and discussions on things ancient and arboreal.  The morning session in Perth included talks on themes around wood pasture, parkland, tree recording and preservation, Atlantic hazel woods, along with perspectives from England and Scotland.

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Our afternoon was spent literally in the field, meeting some of Scone Palace’s historic and impressive trees.

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Donald Rodger (in the green coat), author of ‘Heritage Trees of Scotland’ introduced us to a massive sitka spruce.

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Ted Green, ATF founder and president, speaking beside the James VI/I sycamore.

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My favourite tree from the field visit was a huge copper beech.  The strange contortions in its trunk are due to the copper beech tree being grafted onto common beech rootstock at an unusually high graft point.

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So what did I learn? Loads more than I can write but here’s a start...

  •  Here in the UK we have ancient trees and landscapes of European and even global significance.
  • They are really rare, very rich habitats which are only just beginning to be understood.
  • Our ancient trees and treescapes have very little protection from destruction or damage – even relatively recent important buildings have much more protection.
  • They are irreplaceable – planting new trees is not enough.  They are complex ecosystems that have evolved over hundreds, quite possibly thousands of years.
  • They are a living link to our past, representing a depth of history which can be hard for us short-lived humans to comprehend – for example the oaks I draw in Dalkeith Country Park are known to be at least 500 years old.
  • Death and decay is a very important part of this ecosystem.  An old tree with bracket fungus growing from it is not necessarily a sick or fragile tree – the fungus is recycling material that the tree no longer needs, making the nutrients available to the tree roots again.
  •  Hollow trees are especially important for the habitats they provide for all kinds of creatures, plants, fungi and lichens.
  • There’s a growing movement of people – campaigners, scientists, ecologists, academics, arborists, historians and artists of course, who are raising awareness and appreciation of this amazing heritage that we have.

There’s more about the Ancient Tree Forum’s work on their website, or try the interactive map to find your own special trees - let me know about your visits.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone...

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Figured wood on the walls

April 06, 2014 | Comments: 0 | Categories:

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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Broken oak tree

March 12, 2014 | Comments: 0 | Categories:

broken-oak

Words probably won't add much here, but just to give a little context, this is an oak on the Dalkeith Country Park Estate, in a large area of ancient wood pasture which was once a deer hunting forest.  The wood continues to be used for cattle grazing but is managed for conservation - this tree has broken in half very dramatically, but the dead wood will not be cleared away or otherwise tidied. Instead it will be allowed to slowly decompose and provide habitat for countless millions of other organisms as it does so.  Not to mention also providing both shocking and endlessly beautiful subject matter for freezing artists in the winter months. 

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Adventures in photopolymer printmaking

March 10, 2014 | Comments: 4 | Categories:

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.



Figured wood at Dawyck Botanic Gardens

March 09, 2014 | Comments: 1 | Categories:

Dalkeith burred oak

Solo exhibition featuring charcoal, pastel and line drawings inspired by trees and influenced by the figure.

Opening event Saturday 5th April, 11am - 1pm at Dawyck Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre.

The exhibition runs from 5th April - 3rd August 2014.

More information about all my exhibitions can be found here»



Hanging decisions

March 06, 2014 | Comments: 0 | Categories:

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Which to frame, what kind of frame, how many to hang, which to hang where? so many decisions...and then so much maths once you've decided.  They never taught me this at art college!



A long time in the planning

March 03, 2014 | Comments: 0 | Categories:

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It may be only a 50th of the actual size but this is the best planning tool I've used yet!

Having two solo shows booked for 2014, I thought I really needed to make myself a plan to guide my work and preparations.  However, the two dimensional methods I'd used before just weren't up to the job, particularly for the Meffan Gallery show which has a flexible panel system for hanging work.  So, it may have been my three-dimensional design training or perhaps my childhood love of doll's houses that prompted me to find some foamboard offcuts, some dressmaking pins and a calculator to translate a 2D floor plan into a proper 3D model.  I can't lie - it was fun and I did spend longer than strictly necessary viewing it from all angles at eye level. Even made a wee person too.

Once I'd printed images of the potential works to scale it was a doddle to hang and rehang, play one piece off against another and generally visualise the exhibition as a whole. It was also obvious where the gaps might be and where I should focus my efforts with new work - it's so easy to get carried away with exciting new experiments but I also have to make sure I have work to put on these walls.

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There's no substitute for seeing the actual exhibition space if it's possible, so I spent an afternoon at Dawyck Botanic Garden, measuring the gallery and meeting the lovely staff.  They'd just finished hanging the current show, Remarkable Trees, which is on until the end of March.  My show 'Figured wood' follows it, opening on the 5th April.

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Now I have two little scale models to reassure me when I think I don't have enough work, don't know what I'm going to do, think it'll all go wrong - those creative insecurities don't ever go away but some practical planning really helps me to ignore them!



In front of the camera

October 23, 2013 | Comments: 0 | Categories:

photoshoot

Like most artists I know I'd prefer to be behind the camera than in front of it - I'd rather let the work speak for itself, but there are times when a decent photo of the artst in their studio is required.  So I was lucky to have the chance last weekend of getting some professional images made by Mark K Jackson, a local partrait and documentary photographer currently working on a project to photograph artists and makers in St Margaret's House.  I confess to being totally bamboozled by the technical aspects of photography: thankfully Mark knows his subject well and has some impressive kit too.  I dutifully donned my dusty drawing shirt, held my drawing materials still and tried really hard not to blink.  Some of the resulting images will probably sneak onto the internet fairly soon!

A very different (and more comfortable) kind of publicity opportunity presented itself recently, in the form of Wolfstar Pictures and their 'Art Drone'.  As part of our Open Week/Open Studios event my fellow tenants set out to make a short film giving a taste of the creativity in the building. I was so pleased to have my studio chosen to feature in their fantastic film - see for yourself here »



How I made myself a home

October 23, 2013 | Comments: 0 | Categories:

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Make yourself @ home  - it was great!  Here's the exhibition blog to tell you all about it.



Strange happenings in my studio

September 22, 2013 | Comments: 27 | Categories:

It's been a weird day in studio 6.20 today - my charcoal coated creative sanctuary was invaded by shopping trolleys, power tools and flying techno drones.

I have to be honest and say that there's been no drawing done there for over a month now, other than doodles over photographs of empty gallery spaces and graph paper plans of exhibition layouts.  I've really missed getting into my 'grey zone', immersing myself in the pure joy of line, tone, proportion and light.  However, I have set myself the goal of curating a sizeable group show with an adventurous concept and that won't organise itself now will it.  So, with twenty other artists taking part and only four days to build it in the gallery, I've been putting all my time and effort into preparations and publicity for Make yourself @ home.

I began today by transferring most of the useful and interesting things from the shed to my car, then into a shopping trolley to take them up in the lift to my studio, which meant that the trolley was cluttering up my space.  A happy hour or so was spent wielding my power tools, making shelves and brackets and other fixings for the show - very satisfying also because everything was made from materials collected and retrieved over the years or 'buckshee' as the Scots say.

Then Costas and the film crew from Wolfstar Pictures came in to have a look around and see if it was suitable for the wee film they are making to promote our Open Week at St Margaret's House.  We had a good chat, they said a lot of technical things I couldn't understand to each other, then we agreed how I should set it up for the filming.  Here's a quick snippet introducing their idea, which involves an 'Artdrone' snooping round the studios after hours - slightly creepy but in a good way I think!  Other studios are being filmed over the next few days, then we shall see the secret life of St Margaret's House.

Want to know what an Art drone is? Have a look here »