As I was putting away the last of my works from 'Wood nude tree limb' last night, it struck me that mounting your own exhibition has a lot in common with camping. Don't take me too literally on this - there were no barbeques or long walks to the toilet during our show, it's just that the 'temporaryness' felt the same.
With both it seems that what you need to do is find a space that you like, that you feel comfortable in, then you fill it with your things, spending ages arranging and rearranging till it feels just right. Then of course you invite people to come and enjoy it with you.
I realise this isn't the way everyone does camping but I like to have my camp in reasonable order so I know where to find the lighter or the teabags or the midge spray in a hurry. And I think most campers would be fairly careful in choosing their site before they pitch their tent - as the saying goes, "Pitch in haste, regret at leisure up to your ankles in water in a force 9 gale". These were good choices thankfully, at Blinkbonny Wood East Lothian and Big Sands, Gairloch.
I used to be a puppeteer many moons ago and performing in a small touring company demands many similar skills and tasks too - meticulous planning and packing balanced by a willingness to embrace the unforseen, gamely problem solving when the sets won't fit through the doorway for instance (despite being assured by the venue that they would!). There's a huge amount of effort that goes into setting up a touring show in a new venue, making sure that everything is where it should be onstage and that the audience sees what you intend them to see. Perhaps this is where my attention to the little details such as labels being straight stems from.
There's also the short periods of intense activity contrasting with the long periods of sitting around not doing much and possibly getting a bit bored. All that transporting, building, lifting, fixing, cleaning, fiddling about, then it's done and we can all have a glass of wine.
I like to sit in the gallery during the period of the show because I enjoy meeting people and talking about the work. Their feedback and comments help me reflect on my work - it's a rather lonely business making art so it's always interesting to me to hear other viewers thoughts. When it's quiet in the gallery it's nice just to contemplate, to look at it critically from a greater distance than usual and in a different context or light. I tend to generate lots of ideas for new work during these times and other artists I've spoken to agree that can be worth mounting a show for this reason alone.
Then the show has to come down and what has felt very much like home reverts back to being just a big empty echoey space. The newly filled holes in the wall are like the yellowed patch of grass where the footprint of the tent has been - the stage is cleared, the pitch is clean. One last check around to make sure there's nothing left behind and it's all in good order for the next traveller, then we're off.
Last night's preview was very busy despite the heat yesterday, giving the four of us a great buzz. In the calm of the morning after I've taken a few panaramic photos to give an idea of how the whole show looks...
Hanging an exhibition is a task not to be underestimated. It's never as straightforward as you imagine and there are decisions to be made which shouldn't be rushed, since hanging a group show means finding the best way to do justice to everyone's work and allowing the artworks to 'speak' to each other. A curator's job is a subtle and sophisticated one - I'm only just beginning to learn how much I have to learn! I'll be curating my first large group show in the autumn and very much hope to be ready for the challenge.
There are four of us showing in Wood nude tree limb and it's been a long hot week with some very hard work but I'm pleased to day that (almost) everything is ready for our preview tonight. Just a bit of cleaning and tidying to be done, a few admin jobs and trying to stay cool when you're excited about the show and it's 27 degrees outside!
We spent most of last night placing Allan's sculpture, which was much harder than I expected - in this view it's not quite finished but we're getting there. The three dimensional work really brought the show together and made me smile when walked in to the gallery with fresh eyes after going back to the studio.
I'll be sitting in the gallery during the week so I expect I'll notice things that could be improved, both about my work and its presentation. I love having this opportunity to reflect and review, perhaps it's the nature of the creative mind always looking for a better way?
Back in the grounds of Newbattle Abbey today drawing this fallen beech:
It's unusual for me to have the opportunity to get close to the upper parts of a tree as big as this, since I'm not any kind of climber. It came down in the January storms of 2012 and the photo below was taken shortly after, while the torn trunk was still very fresh and smelling of sap.
I've been collecting as much visual information as I can while it's still in situ - it's possible that next time I visit it could be removed for safety reasons, though I'm hopeful that it will be left to sustain life as it rots.
Here's the very beginnings of a drawing made from photos taken of the tree when it was still standing, it's almost ready to leave the board now but I'm not quite ready to say "finished" yet.
Newbattle Abbey College has a long and interesting history and some of my very favourite trees.
It’s been a regular haunt for me since I moved to Scotland in 1994 and I returned today in search of some tree graffiti to get the ideas flowing around ‘Tree Stories’, a project in the pipeline which I hope to be involved in later this year. It’s being developed by Professor Ian D Rotherham at Sheffield Hallam University and aims to get the public engaged in a national hunt for marked and worked trees, recording them in photographs and trying to find out a bit more about their history.
This idea was immediately appealing to me, as I’ve been collecting images of carved and marked trees and incorporating these into my recent work.
Newbattle graffiti beech, charcoal on paper (plus detail)
It raises some interesting questions for me about where the line is drawn between vandalism and culture, damage and heritage. I’d like to find out more about how carving a living tree affects it – does it lead to stress, disease or weakness, or is the tree able to repair or isolate the damage? How much of the bark’s surface can be carved before it starts to cause serious problems for the tree?
This particular beech seems to have taken on a local significance as the place to ‘make your mark’. The oldest carving I could identify was dated 1955, but most were from the 1970s and 80s, with some much more recent.
It’s both shocking and impressive to see the whole surface of the tree marked like this – as if a large crowd had gathered by the river and started yelling their names.
I've never noticed this on my previous visits, but there are coins pressed into wounds in the bark like some sort of spontaneous offering. I've read about 'money trees' before but never seen one up close.
There are more 'Tree Stories' to come from this one I think!Tags:
I’m often asked why I’ve chosen to draw trees and the honest answer is that I really don’t know, I just found myself doing it and now I can’t stop.
It’s a subject that has so many layers of historic, cultural and symbolic meaning and such visual variety that I know I’ll never get bored. In a way, having that constraint on my choice of subject has made me feel more free to experiment with materials and forms of expression.
However, it’s also true to say that there are many things that have influenced my artistic journey to this point and, since it’s Father’s Day, I’ll give the credit to my dad.
Introducing Tony Lee – Woodturner, who died in 2007 but still keeps an eye on me in my studio. He’s pictured here in his own workshop, surrounded by the tools of his trade and looking justifiably pleased with himself, having created his own business in the dark times of the mid eighties. His first workshop was the garden shed where he taught me to turn on the lathe, cut a mortise and sand to a silky finish. I also learned about the quirks and qualities of wood as a material – how it continues to move long after it’s been cut.
I have some of his calipers in my studio now (you can see them to the left of him in the picture).
So you could say that trees have been a theme in family life as I grew up and going back a further generation this was also the case.
My grandparents lived in Worksop Nottinghamshire, close to Sherwood Forest and the Welbeck, Rufford and Clumber estates, otherwise known as ‘The Dukeries’. We spent many a happy Sunday travelling the countryside in their Hillman Imp and the highlight of a trip would be a visit to this monster:
Here’s a picture of us in authentic 1970s garb to give you a sense of scale – I’m quite glad that this old picture is grainy, so you can’t see my haircut!
The Major Oak is the most famous tree in Sherwood and possibly one of the most famous in the UK. When I was a child you could clamber all over it and my sister and I used to hide right inside its belly. These are much more recent photos I took when visiting early this year:
Of course it’s now surrounded by a fence and is extensively supported by large props. It brings to mind a zoo animal, somewhat constrained but conserved and protected at least.
How could you fail to be impressed by this ancient tree?
I don't really know where my inspiration comes from, I just hope it never stops.
My workspace is divided up into zones - this isn't as organised as it sounds, it's just evolved that way over the years, though I may have been unwittingly influenced by kitchen design here. I've also spent many a happy and productive hour in various sheds and workshops and probably developed an appreciation of things being in their place as a result.
- Think space
- Make space
- Materials storage space
- Work in progress space
- Finished work storage space
- Admin and reference space
The space I would love to have but can't fit in would be a 'sit in a comfy chair and relax' space - I have to go down to the 3rd floor of Art's Complex for that, but that's too far away from my drawing board!
My drawing board could be considered a family heirloom now, having been made by my dad as a 16th birthday present. It's on its second mdf top and the metal frame has had a few coats of paint. The chair was a Barnardo's bargain. You'll see my mind-map on the wall where I've collected some of the images and ideas that guide my work - I'll write more on this in a future post as I'm a big fan of mind-maps, if you're curious have a look at Tony Buzan's site.
There's usually a laptop here too and some oatcake crumbs.
This view shows my main workspace, complete with dusty hand towel.
My talented husband made this shelf and fitted it to the hopelessly soft plasterboard walls - this enables me to have three boards alongside each other, plus I have my giant plywood board for large drawings which I can slide along the floor. I use foam pipe lagging to cushion the top edge of the boards.
Materials storage space
Most of my drawing materials are stored in these metal drawers which help to keep the charcoal dust off.
They are stuffed full of things which I use all the time, things which I thought would be useful one day, but turned out not to be, and things which I couldn't help but buy when in the art shop but didn't really need at all - I can easily walk past a shoe shop but am powerless to resist the pull of an art store. I buy a lot online these days mainly from Great Art and Jacksons Art.
A peek inside artist's studios facebook page has all the studio pictures you could possibly wish for. It's really interesting to see the variety of workspaces artists carve out for themselves and how different they all are, a bit like different species of birds building their own individual style of nest. I love my nest.
My studio isn't particularly tidy but I do like my space to be organised - I think it's the 3D designer in me still trying to make things functional and pleasing too. So here's a peek at my storage solutions...
I can honestly say I have never fallen asleep in my studio, not even a little nap (though I know other artists who have!) but I do have a bed there. 'Upcycling' is such a happy word - this is what I did with an unwanted ex-bunkbed that was hanging about the loft. It was one of the first things built for my studio and had to be carried in pieces up eight floors by some handy helpers as the lifts didn't work then. The 12mm ply on top gives me a big sturdy worksurface and there's loads of storage space for things that need to be kept flat. The under the bed space is great for bunging the awkward stuff that won't go anywhere else.
Work in progress
Super strong magnets + adhesive ferrous strip = storage solution number two.
This is where I put things for review and rumination, it's where ideas and sketches gradually evolve into finished works.
These Neodymium magnets are amazing and a little big dangerous too - they actually come with a warning leaflet. No small children or pacemakers and under no circumstances put them in your mouth! Unless you enjoy A&E of course. The best thing about them is that they don't mark the paper at all and one little magnet can hold a surprising weight of paper.
I like to work on a large scale and the charcoal drawings I make are quite fragile until framed so I have a system of wires running along the studio wall where I can hang work safely when finished.
They're from Ikea again and intended for curtains I think, find them here.
These are the clips supplied with the wires which are perfect for hanging works on paper. I also use them to attach weights to the bottom edge of paper if it's still curled.
Built around the doorway is shelving designed to accomodate my framed work, made from Ikea's Gorm range and some odds and ends of timber, hardboard, brackets and the like to make it stable. I planned this carefully to make it fit the sizes of frame I usually have and to make best use of my space. It looks a bit empty just now as I have work out in other places, but it will hold quite a lot and keeps it safe.
See my next post on 'An artist's workspace' for more designer ideas!
There's just a month to go before my next exhibition, a joint one with three other artists who share my fascination with natural form. It's at Art's Complex and opens with a preview on Friday 12th July, then runs for just over a week. The gallery is open to the public between 10am and 6pm.
Find out more at the exhibition blog»
Unusually, this is the only tree I photographed, though not really a tree at all.
The weirdest flowers I've ever encountered - an orchid with a vine-like habit but I didn't note the name.
I can't take credit for these photos - most are my daughter's! I think she has a good eye already.