30 June 2012

adventures on a bike laden with lead

this week has been spent mostly in diy shops and metal scrap yards and thanks to the amazing people i've met along the way it's been lots of fun. i'm preparing for my exhibition in august (which i'll write more on later).

first stage was buying a couple of sheets of 8' x 4' mdf from julians in penryn. i cut them up there so i could carry them across the road to a friend's workshop on a barge. now, for the record, i can saw in a straight line but for these pieces i want a more organic hand cut feel. the guys working there were great, asked if i needed any help and then left me to it. when they came back to see how i was doing they couldn't help laughing at my wonky cutting. they were nice but when i said it was meant to be like that, they were having none of it, said they wouldn't employ me and no amount of protesting would convince them otherwise!

next job was to cut the boards down into small panels ready to be lead bound and gessoed. amidst long lengths of wood being planed for re-decking a boat i got sawing and sanding. i ended up with about 140 small pieces.

panels that were sized and soon drying on every available horizontal surface

i used up my entire stock of lead. it has travelled with me from a scrap yard in yorkshire via bristol (but i'm glad i kept it as the price has now rocketed) and set about finding some more locally. along with flea markets, car boot sales, auctions, skips and searching for driftwood there's nothing that i find more exciting than a non-ferrous metals scrap yard! yes- i'm easily pleased. a good friend once said 'it's great, you can get jo to go anywhere if you tell her there's a skip on the way'! my absolute favourite scrap yard was (and hopefully still is) in halifax. huge towering piles of copper, lead, brass and aluminium rose from oily concrete. there were metals crushed into huge cubes, vast crates of coiled wire as well as pots and coal skuttles and taps. but what was best was that once you were known to be an artist the man in the small raised box/office gave you a smile and a nod - silent licence to clamber over and rummage through it all whilst dodging the big grabber heaving great clawfuls of metal from one container to another. i'd gather together my hoard, put it on the vast weighing plate, it wouldn't even register on the scales and he'd say, 'oh, just give me three quid'. perfect. 

i wasn't feeling altogether optimistic as i started to ring round scrap yards locally. the one in hayle had just had all their lead collected the day before and a couple of others said they didn't have much in. so i thought the best plan of action was to get the train to perranwell and cycle to united downs where i knew they're were a few on one road.

the first yard i came across was small with just one pallet of lead. there were some nice old pieces and i was so over-joyed to find anything that i bought as much as i had money for and could fit into my bike basket. they were really friendly and said if they got any of the thin pieces with white oxidization i was looking for they'd put them to one side for me. i then went next door just to see what it was like. again not much lead but i caught sight of the end of what looked like an amazing piece poking out. there was no one around so i borrowed a pair of gigantic oily leather gloves and after much effort i wrestled it free. i know it's stating the obvious but lead really is so heavy. it was totally worth it though as the patina is beautiful with bands of flaky white speckled with a deep terracotta pink. i was beginning to  regret my hastiness at having spent all my money next door when i suddenly realised that maybe i could sell some of the lead i'd just bought to buy this piece instead. while i waited for someone to appear a man came along with some metal to sell and we got chatting. he told me he was a gardener and that his brother had studied fine art. i described what i was making and with a cursory glance over his shoulder he dug down into a bucket and handed me his roll of lead. i swapped some of my lead for the patinated piece and paid the woman in the office. she said i must be sure to bring in photos of my work so they could put them up on the wall. i looked at the wall- a kind of corrugated iron shed warehouse, and i promised i would.

the third yard at the end of the road was pretty exciting and more like the one in halifax. there is a big sign saying 'enter at your own risk' and vast heaps of every type of metal imaginable. it was loud, had an air of danger and the big grabber claw was busily at work. a huge lorry was reversing down the ramp, clouds of dust and fumes filled the air. in a big shed a short man was methodically snipping lengths of lead pipe into a wire crate. i inquired about lead and he showed me a giant steel cylinder as tall as a small cottage. he said there'd be plenty of what i was after but that it was all dropped into the depths of this tank. he was also really interested in what i was doing and offered to save me any white pieces in the future.

and so to cycling back. i had about 15kg of lead in my basket but fortunately most of the way was down hill. it was a little scary, corners had to be taken wide, stopping had me back in barge navigating mode but most of all, it looked like i'd robbed a church. i'd love to know where all this lead has come from. 

back safe and sound 

detail of my favourite piece (which is actually quite large now it's been hammered out)

beginning to hammer out the lead

25 June 2012

orange things from my secret beach

a startling sunny day and a quick trip to 'my' beach. a jungle of tall gunnera leaves glow luminous against the sky. tiny shafts of light filter down through small raggedy holes. round the headland and there before me, 'my' beach. in the distance i see a silvery white glint of what looks like a boat hauled up by the rocks. i squint into the sun and try to make out the shape. i think of this beach as 'my secret beach' as in all the time i've been going there only once have i met someone. i feel slightly annoyed that there seems to be a little gathering. but i am soon drawn to the strand line- bright flashes of orange punctuate the dark tangled mass of seaweed. and i begin to collect orange things. lost in my world of crab shell orange i wander along until i hear my name called. i look up and see a friend, a strange encampment of up turned boats and people sitting round a kettle on a small fire. swathes of seaweed hang crisp and salty over oars propped between rocks. i join the group, am passed a cup of dandelion coffee and try to work things out. 

it appears a man i vaguely know has decided to rent out his flat for the summer and live on this beach with his flotilla of coracles. he is studying seaweed. i tell him about this being my secret beach and he tells me it's his too. a woman who is living on a thai island has come home to visit cornwall and 'her' secret beach and bumped into this man who is an old friend of hers. we chat and she invites me to come and stay in her cabin on a thai island. she says, 'just remind me that you met me on this beach'. so where does my friend fit in? well, as the seaweed collecting man goes to the car with the thai island lady and her daughter i'm informed that my friend is actually here on a date. but it's been interrupted by a string of people who've all come to visit 'their' secret beach. unfortunately for her time has run out and the seaweed man has had to go somewhere. i share a beautiful green salad with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, peppers and rock samphire- a romantic salad that wasn't for me. the sun is the hottest it's been for months and i've come unprepared. there's no one else around so we strip off and go for a swim- and i become aware that i'm now replacing the seaweed man on this date with my friend. the sea feels warm and amazing. at least we thought there was no one else around until we look up the beach and see three guys pulling out towels. they sit and watch us. we half swim half crawl into the shallows and then have no choice but to run for it.

23 June 2012

ucf degree shows

well, there's been so much art to see recently and far too much to write about. fortunately my friend has written a great post on the fascinating talk we went to by cornelia parker (click here to have a look) which lets me off the hook! 

so after the open studios came the contemporary craft fair in bovey tracey which i went to with my aunt. being a local she knew all the sneaky back routes so we didn't get tied up in traffic or queues. It was a really fantastic event and a beautiful cup by one of my favourite potters, katrin moye made it back to my kitchen. it's big and hot chocolate sized and i can't wait to use it!

after looking at about 160 different stalls i called into the ucf fine art degree show on my way home. i realised that i had reached my capacity to absorb any more work but a couple of pieces caught my eye....

lenticel by lillie lockwood- mod rock, wax and varnish

lenticel (detail) by lillie lockwood

crevasse by lillie lockwood - handmade paper

quails eggs by lauren wilson

quails eggs (detail) by lauren wilson

12 June 2012


birch bark canoe found at enys
fused glass panel in my kitchen
gravestone in jewish cemetery in falmouth
sea at penzance
lines worn into a pebble from prisk cove

11 June 2012

open studios cornwall 2012

on saturday afternoon i went to explore some open studios. i love open studios and am thinking about throwing my doors wide next year. it was disappointing that there weren't more in falmouth and penryn. i'm not sure why this is as there are so many artists in these areas. in bristol the studio trails are amazing. there are so many that each individual area has its own event and in some places there are many houses on the same street which means it can all be done on foot. i know bristol is bigger but i heard on the radio someone saying that cornwall has the largest concentration of artists for its area outside london (i hope i've got that right). and i know so many artists in falmouth and penryn so i'm guessing it must be the money. i think in bristol it's around £20-£25 to participate but here it's £100! that just doesn't make any sense to me. i know there are costs involved but surely not £20,000! (there are about 200 artists this year and it's sponsored by mylor yacht harbour too). so it seems a shame if it's the money situation that's preventing a truly vibrant event from blossoming here.

anyway, puzzlement aside, i saw some wonderful work, met some great people and was very inspired. i've just picked some of my favourites to tell you about here.

first off i visited  sarah mccartney just along the road from me. her studio is in her garage and it was over-whelmingly fantastic (so much so that i went back again the next day for another look!) it was full of everything that i love- verdigris copper, bits of driftwood, an amazing collection of found and natural objects and that's before even looking at her work. at the back were two glass cabinets with beautiful specimens including fragments of lobster shells, crabs, skeleton birds, dried frogs and a pair of tiny wings from a gold crest (i think). trays along the front contained shells, old copper nails, sea tumbled glass and a whole array of aesthetically beautiful objects.

her work is exquisite with insects, images, gold leaf and words encased in resin and framed within the found wood, copper and tin. i definitely recommend a look at her  blog for a full insight into her work as there is drawing, painting, sculpture, illustration, work in progress and it's all very inspiring.

why i am awake by sarah mccartney

don't lose it by sarah mccartney

evolve by sarah mccartney


after a couple of others in falmouth a friend and i headed to krowji in redruth, a converted grammar school with about forty artists' studios.

christine spencer-green's magical dream-like paintings caught my eye, a few of which had her green-eyed black cat sabrina emerging enigmatically from the canvas. she told me that she'd always had pure bred siamese cats in the past but that sabrina is special because her mother is siamese but her father is a black fisherman's cat which means that sabrina  is an unusual black siamese witch's cat! 

sabrina and me by christine spencer-green
painting by christine spencer-green

esther connon is an illustrator and printmaker and looking through her hand bound limited edition book 'florence flies away' was an absolute treat. the book itself is such a wonderful and beautifully crafted object housing a wordless illustrated story. her screen prints are finely executed on gorgeous paper and her latest book, 'the seed' had totally sold out.

from the book 'florence flies away' by esther connon
'the seed' - opening sequence by esther connon
'the seed' - rain sequence by esther connon

in 'the white butterfly' a "butterfly brings peace to an old man's final days. this story is based on the japanese legend that believes the butterfly to be the soul of loved ones that have passed away".
 'the white butterfly' by esther connon

and i love this delicate drawing from 'lily and the lion'

'lily and the lion' by esther connon

wandering along the corridor i came upon siobhan purdy with her dreamy intuitive paintings beckoning me forth. she was great to chat to and for me her paintings summed up the magical quality of cornwall. she is mainly self-taught and i love the way that her paintings are so genuinely her.

farmer's wife by siobhan purdy
misty morning by siobhan purdy
and finally before closing there was just enough time to have a quick peek at tom raffield's ingenious steam bent lamp shades and furniture in ash and oak. i always find steam bending fascinating. it's amazing how the form of a material so hard and deliberate can be re-sculpted with such ease and look so natural in it's final shape with the grain obediently following the new curves.

my kitchen has been converted from an old 1930's green house so the window sills all remain sloping so that plants could make the most of the light. i realised that one of tom's lovely coiled pots would be  a great solution as they stand at an angle and are therefore perfect for wonky shelves!

flower pots by tom raffield

gracing a sloping shelf at home

08 June 2012

suttons of cornwall

a quick trip to penzance to drop off some work that i'd done for a friend with just enough time to scurry to the sea to watch the amazing tiers of racing waves. i could  just about see the hazy outline of st. michael's mount looking like a magical, ethereal land that could dissipate with the gentlest of breezes. there was some beautiful lichen on the rocks- the sunny ochre adding a hint of warmth to the dreary day. 

there was also just enough time for a quick visit to steckfensters- a treasure trove of wonderful curiosities, where i spied this fantastic mackerel box. the simple but striking design caught my eye so i asked if i could photograph it. although just a cardboard box it is apparently a collector's item and had a price to match. when i got home i thought i'd do some research and came across this blog called 'through the gaps' with a post on the same box. it's a fascinating blog with lots about newlyn fishing, fishing boats and sustainable fishing policies. there's also a page on contemporary newlyn artists (where i found the friend i'd gone to meet) and so continues newlyn's legacy of fishing and art.

but back to the box. all i managed to discover was this comment from a man with a big bushy beard and cap looking suspiciously like a traditional cornish fisherman :

"this is indeed a mackerel box, it held two stone [28pound] of fish. mackerel were graded by size, green coloured boxes held the largest next came medium size in orange/brown boxes and finally the smallest in blue boxes, all great quality fish."

05 June 2012


a drizzly wet day. after the excitement of watching friends brave the choppy waters in the castle to castle swim we finish the day with a damp picnic at towan. terns plummet from the sky like meteors,  plump seabirds skip along the edge of the foam and a cream spot tiger moth waits silently with a tattered wing.

and a couple of days before the swim my friends saw these at treen...... amazing!

photo by chris stonehill