Monday, 13 March 2017

Box (part1)

Here you find me on the threshold of a whole new body of work that has been scratching at my bones for so long. 

All the while I have fairly delved with some pioneer spirit into painting with melted beeswax, resin and oil paint, destroyed so many old pieces that no longer served me and played with rust printing on paper and fabric and stitched the same. 

At the same time a growing pile of boxes in various states of vintage and disrepair has been occupying my studio. If you've ever visited me there and noticed, you might have considered the pile just another aspect of general studio storage clutter. Inquiries as to their meaning have usually been answered with mutterings of a new arcane project, in planning, but not actually doing it yet...

I write copious notes, look at old photographs, make drawings, read and read and find references to ...well ...everything really. Somehow it all seems relevant. This work is the BIG thing that I feel I have been revving up to since I started all this arty stuff.

And now I really have opened the first box and am sanding, scraping and marking it.

As I look back through the writings here, I find that I have alluded to "Box" before. Assuredly I thought to have more to show for it by now. But then the gestation has been a lifetime and sometimes you just can't hurry.

So the box is open. Now what will I put inside...

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The comfort of studios

On any given day, I can cross the road in front of our house and travel by bus for ten miles or so to my studio, located in the small fishing town of Kirkcudbright, here in South West Scotland.

The journey is predictably and reassuringly familiar, promising a non-judgemental welcome as my square key turns in the lock and reveals ever present delights within.

Here I am.
Breathe internal calming sigh.
Light, smells, materials demanding touching.
Work still in progress from last encounters.

I work in various states of chaos. 

Then I declare there is no space and there must ensue ordering, sorting, rebuilding of rust-printed paper piles, sweeping and rearranging.

Reasoned activity offers fresh breathing rhythms. 
There will be time to catch ideas and help them settle before the muddling happens again.

And then there’s my chair to cocoon me offering yet more time - “to sleep, perchance to dream”.
And I do sleep sometimes - delicious permitted opportunism for afternoon naps wrapped in my knitted studio blanket.
And dreaming too...

Comfort that’s all.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Waxy papers and a piece of cloth

Whether the next project is boxes, bowls or as yet half formed ideas for something yet unspoken, each requires a bit more imagining, free-form exploring, sketchbook developing and journal musing before I actually feel I am committed to a new body of work.

In a way this is quite a novel way of working for me. Leaping in and seeing what happens is more my style in the studio but in the current spirit of change, I’ve been feeling the need to act like a “proper artist” and do a bit more exploratory preparation so I can at least pretend that I know what I am doing.

I have started doing a bit of experimenting with encaustic monoprinting, using a makeshift system of baking sheet heated over an electric hotplate as my printing bed. Here I make marks with encaustic wax pigment bars melting unctuously directly on to the tray before laying down paper on top to make the print. It is a mesmerising and compulsive activity and indeed much paper and wax is used in just observing obsessively as the molten pigment draws the paper to it, flooding and owning.

Then I remember that this is about sample making - different papers, different colours, using tools to manipulate the spread and line of the wax, adding ground graphite to swirl in plain wax pellets.
Making notes, scribbling ideas that just might make the next print so irresistible.

Then right at the end as I need to finish up or I miss my bus, I grab a strip of natural crumpled linen with straggling clots of threads and lay it on the waxy plate. And it works. This is quite different from the effects with finer rice and tissue papers, rather more like heavy textured handmade khadi paper. The slubby fibre tangles acted like resist leaving uneven trails across the surface.

Mmm gorgeous marks...

Tuesday, 8 December 2015


Now I'm launching myself off the precipice with hopeful intent - no free fall with terror this time. The studio awaits, seemingly also keen to get started on a new adventure...

Where will I begin?

I survey the space.

Mmmm - there's a devilishly alluring gathering of rusty metal shards on the table. Some printing with them onto a variety of papers and cloth would be a fruitful use of time, I think.

Ahhh - my attention is drawn to the group of encaustic bowls I was experimenting with. To make another would be a pleasing rhythmical activity, curved layers of paper and wax combining into a satisfying just right for cupping-in-the-hand structure.

Ooh - but there is my collection of seen-better-days wooden boxes. Part of me can't wait to start transforming them into the still mysterious project I have named "Box".

But not yet.

Choice can be like change sometimes - excitingly attractive but potentially ever so scary too. What if I choose the wrong thing? All too clearly, I can imagine the parallel universe where I opted for the other, just not so sure about this one though...

Sitting. Breathing.

It's ok. I don't need to rush.

I will just be here, play and explore and think what if I make marks here, add colour there, gouge or smooth.

That's all there is to it.

No big decisions.

The rest will unfold.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Flowing Forward

Depression and anxiety have been daemon accomplices breathing in tandem with me. They translate their warped view of reality into my subjective experience, silencing my anguished cries, leaving me feeling powerless to act.

My work pattern has been dictated by the rhythms of my daemons; they rage rabidly and I am left fearfully paralysed seeking shelter; their bad-wolf snarling calms unexpectedly and I might try to express some emotion, to expunge the voices with some creative endeavour before the fury starts again.

And so it has been for so long.
But with seasons turning and with much time given from those who care about me, there are changes.
I know how lucky I am.

These days I try not to heed the harrowing whisperings. I work more often to my own rhythms.
New ideas for finished pieces are emerging.
I detect new flows.
And that is hopeful.
More than that it is tentatively exhilarating... and I breathe.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Letting go part 3 (or transformative space)

Clearing space is a much under glorified way of spending time.

There is an obvious usefulness in the activity of course, creating tidy, uncluttered areas in which to work without the distraction of too much muddling stuff.

But that’s expected.

Almost without fail whilst a-sorting, I will find a vital mislaid scraping tool or fabulously marked paper fragment that might enhance the next piece I make.

Fortuitous but not life changing.

This time though, this super deep clean of my studio left me feeling elated.


The act of destroying my work was not some frenzied attack of self-loathing. (I know too well when that is the deal.)

This was mindful purpose.

I had created these pieces. I discovered, explored and honed skills. I developed narratives, questioned and challenged myself. All that could not be destroyed just by the act of cutting up, by removing the work from being.

It is not lost - I absorbed it all both good and bad. I made the commitment to progress during all the time of making and now I had just let go of the physical reminder of that transformative process.

Transformation might take a lifetime to manifest itself.

Recognising it might just take a random act of space clearing.

Photo from Kim Ayres Photography

Friday, 20 November 2015

Letting Go part 2 (or the art of making space)

What does an artist do when unsold work starts to dominate the studio?

If they were newer encaustic pieces then I might scrape the wax surface back and start again on the wooden panels.

But this work predates all my encaustic explorations. Numerous highly textured canvasses, some bubble-wrapped, stacked under tables, racked against diminishing wall space and taking up shelves threaten to stifle and ensnare me by their very presence. Somehow they don’t even seem relevant to what I do now, so immersed I feel now with my encaustic work. Would I want to put them on show and say this is what I make?

A craft knife rests on the edge of the table... I thought I had tidied my tools away.

Just one then to see how it feels...

I look down at the floor. It definitely needs sweeping again. A mound of torn, mangled canvas with wrangled staples and threads lies there.

I carry three stretcher frames across the floor. I know someone who will use these.

This is good and getting easier.

Another and then another.

As I slash and wrench, I inspect the years of making in my hands.

Interested, inquisitive, surprised even, but not dismayed and definitely not grieving.

By the end of the afternoon only two remain, reprieved with sentiment.


Still breathing.

How to deal with lack of space…