19 August 2013

beach combing with a kindred spirit

beach combing with a kindred spirit is an amazing experience. amazing but you have to learn how to share.

i've never met anyone who was as excited and inspired by as many of the same things as the friend i made last year. i ventured into her open studio to find intricate layered sculptures surrounded by wonderful collections of natural objects and beach finds. i didn't know where to look first and was so overwhelmed by it all that i had to go back again the next day.

i've always loved searching for interesting, unusual and beautiful objects on the beach. both the experience and what i discover inform and influence my work. in the past, reactions from friends have ranged from totally perplexed and a little horrified (if something was dead) to curious and enthused but still slightly hesitant by some of the things i found fascinating. i've hitch hiked laden with carrier bags of driftwood from the arctic circle in finland back to yorkshire with a boyfriend indifferent to my bleached bone white hoard. i've received two long gift wrapped pieces of driftwood for christmas from lovely friends in devon. i've wandered beaches with friends who've known my taste and handed me their finds along the way. but i've never met someone who collects and sees beauty in so many of the same wonderful and rare treasures to be found.

at first it was a bit disconcerting. you're walking along together enjoying the space, the peace, a little lost in conversation. you glance down at the sand and see a tiny pink cowrie peeking out from beneath a pebble. as my brain registers and thinks - oooh, a cowrie, a hand reaches forward and picks it up. but it's not my hand. my brain is still sending that message and it all happens a little too late. echoes of a distant childhood feeling of 'that's not fair' spring forth and with it the desire to be the first to spot the next one.

that was my first experience of wandering the strand line with crab s. if we walked together chatting then it was easy to pick up something from under the other's nose. you tend to look slightly forward at an angle as you walk and not always see exactly what's right under foot. if the other person is a few paces apart, the line of their angle can hit the ground at the your own feet. and you can literally whip away something from under the others toes and nose. i think my friend is a little bit faster than me.

to avoid this one option would be to start at separate ends of the line and meet in the middle. but that would be a bit solitary and conversation would be tricky. so without really realising it we seem to have worked out our own sideways overlapping crab crawl. i was trying to imagine what our movements would look like if they were seen from the air and plotted on a graph or diagram. i think they would look something like this:

so now when there is a neat tide line we often make this pattern along the beach. we can still chat and share our finds. like two little crabs weaving a scalloped border beside the edge of the sea.

and just wandering around the beach together must create an interesting abstract design. no neat pattern for as crabs we wander freely. and sometimes we collect crabs too. it's a lovely feeling to be in tune, to look intently together, to share and observe and enthuse about our finds and to enter the absorbing quiet place together.

collecting crab moults along the river

13 August 2013

feeling my way

last year i painted 100 birds. it was a starting point having neither drawn or painted for about 15 years. things had put me off. i've written about it before.

i've just read a lovely piece by artist sarah gallespie. i've seen her work but a friend has just introduced me to her blog. her latest entry resonated deeply within me, as did the previous ones. (you can find it here).

and it started me thinking.
i realised i'm feeling my way.

in her post 'on drawing and non-violence' sarah talks eloquently about the relationship and connection forged between herself and the dead stoat she draws and recognises her feelings of deep love.

"After six hours of drawing, reluctantly but with gratitude I buried her carefully in the compost heap and wondered the following:  If we spent more time looking at things - and by more time I really mean sitting for hours, and by looking I really mean gazing -  and less time channel-hopping our way through life, would we be less violent, unhappy beings? Buddhist monks in India traditionally spend weeks sitting in the charnel grounds, contemplating the dead.  Can we continue to fear, or hate, or even feel indifferent to something when we've looked at it properly?"

in a previous post she mentions taking a break from painting and falling back on that common piece of art school wisdom to "draw, draw, draw". it's interesting because having been someone who drew, drew, drew (from life) i'm actually trying to distance myself from that now. i'm finding it much more exhilarating and freeing to draw from my emotions, to draw from my memory, to feel my way. i find it incredibly challenging, to discard the object, the safety of the immediate point of reference and head blindly into the unknown. and by this, i mean that i don't even want to have a plan of what i'm going to paint - i want to let it happen. instinctively. intuitively.

i'm familiar with that relationship of looking intently, of gazing, of slowing down. i love that feeling of knowing, of building up the relationship. but personally at the moment i feel a strong desire to gently nuzzle it out of the way all together, to search for something deeper within myself. to gaze, to absorb, to touch, to examine, to observe, to photograph (as another way of seeing) and to take that feeling, that which can't be defined by language and paint spontaneously from it. to paint from the heart and the soul. filtered dreams and polished memories. to let go of that hand/eye/brain connection - embrace sentience and let go of mental perception.

i'm interested in emotional intellligence. feelings and emotions connect. they are associative. i feel that in drawing your way around an object or thing you will in some way or form, end up with that thing. drawing from emotions can take you anywhere. i mean that in both senses of the word - sketching from emotions as well as drawing on emotions. i like the idea of tapping into the less conscious part of the psyche to discover what is buried, as yet unknown. the starting point may end in something completely different and take you on a journey in the process. blank canvas. tapping into the stillness, the inborn centre, the deepest root of self.

i paint with the earth to unearth a deeper truth. i paint and draw from my heart and soul.

for me the greatest barrier is anxiety and the greatest aid is music. anxiety disconnects. i once read that when someone expresses that they are 'besides themselves with worry', they really are. one is no longer grounded in one's centre but is literally outside or beside oneself. part of this is a healthy flight or fight response when there is a real danger but many people exist in a mild and continuous state of this arousal. i feel this sometimes in myself and recognise it strongly in others.

i find that music connects me to the calm, still place inside myself. not all music but music written and sung from the heart. recently i went to see sigur ros play at the eden project. it was one of the most deeply emotional experiences i've had in a long time. jonsi's voice was from another world and the emotional intensity of his performance was spine-tinglingly captivating. i had an experince where i actually felt as if roots were growing through my feet and anchoring me to the earth below. i felt i was taken to the deep place i go to when i paint from my self.

and sometimes snippets of songs i'm listening to might weave their way into a painting. one line that comes to me time and time again is repeated in kathryn williams haunting song 'until the dark'  - "think with your heart".

you can hear the grass grow
and feel what the birds think
but you won't drink
what they give to you.....

 .....you think with your heart

12 August 2013

masked crab

masked crab

nestled in a tiny crab-sized crevice
tucked beneath the turbidite rock
lurking under a blanket of tangled kelp
scuttling cautiously or
cowering shadow still
camouflaged by kindness

your shell a mask
no emotion betrayed
tight breath drawn through
hollow antennae

keep your hidden heart buried urchin-safe
beneath the sunlit sand

06 August 2013


magpie moths spread their wings in the patchy sunlight
velvety with seams of river gold caught between dark boulders
too delicate to touch
too still to fly

05 August 2013

penryn arts festival

penryn has just had its first ever arts festival courtesy of lidl (and other generous funders). i'm not quite convinced by the logic behind it but apparently when lidl was built 6 years ago there was an agreement that they paid £10,000 towards an arts festival for the town. i'm unsure if this was in some way supposed to compensate for the impact of another supermarket on penryn's already dwindling small independent food retailers and..... why an arts festival, or who decides these things...... but...... it was really wonderful and the community feeling was inspiring.  

during the week my friend minko took up residence in her cardboard shed in my studio with her maracas, xylophone and boyfriend for her project 'one song wonder'. from inside her little world she played beautiful pared away songs to an audience of one or two people. 

"the project was inspired by the intimate spaces where she rehearses with other musicians - sheds, garages and bedrooms and aims to offer a completely different experience to that of being a member of a crowd or even a faceless listener on the internet".

and on the saturday night she played a candle lit gig to launch her second ep, 'creature' (which you can find here ).this was partly inspired by my current lack of electricity in the building but also the feeling that walls of candles would create a magical atmosphere. so i set to work bending spoons (more brute force than uri geller panache) to quickly russell up forty candle holders. fortunately soup spoons seem to be out of fashion these days so i managed to find thirty in the salvation army shop alone.... and got a discount for buying so many! i mentioned to the old lady that they were just what i was looking for. she said 'you look like an arty type' and i replied that i wasn't intending to have thirty people round for soup. with a self-assured, knowing twinkle in her eye she said, 'i knew you were going to make something'. but time was running out so i had to dash without letting her in on the plan. 

spoons bent and candles secured the evening got off to a flickering start. minko pinned yellow flowers to the walls and as audience members filled the room a warm glow radiated out into the street. i hadn't anticipated that the combined heat of people and candles would make for a very warm room. maybe a source of heating for the winter? we pondered which gave off more heat - a candle or a person? as night fell shadows became stronger, the music ever fuller and i felt like we'd created a world apart. people wandering home looked in, two drunks sheltered in the doorway from a brief shower. from outside i saw my space radiant with light and life - a quiet but fiery haven.

04 July 2013

little hermit crab from dorset

i ventured out of cornwall at the weekend for a family party to celebrate my grandad's 100th! leaving behind thick sea mists after a 5 hour drive we found ourselves bathed in sunshine on golden sands ready to run into the crystal clear turquiose sea (in underwear as i hadn't anticipated swimming weather !). mysteriously most of the shells were inky blue/black apart from this little one. on closer inspection i found a dead hermit crab inside.

28 June 2013

25 June 2013

open studios 2013

a little belated but a huge thank you to everyone who came and visited me for open studios.

in between the catalogue going to print and the event itself i was invited to my sister's wedding which was something i just couldn't miss. this meant i was unable to be there on the first day. a friend kindly sat in for me but unfortunately sold a painting in the window which wasn't for sale! at first i didn't think that this would be a problem as he had taken the couple's email address. so i wrote to explain, thinking they would understand. however, that didn't turn out to be the case. they have refused to return the painting and after writing a second time, they haven't responded. they are willing to lend me the picture to exhibit but are insisting on retaining rights of ownership. i'm very sad about this as it wasn't a painting i was ready to sell. it was also sold at the wrong price - well below what it was worth. i'm very attached to this piece but really don't know what else to do. i have been trying to find out where i stand legally. if anyone reading this has any experience or advice i'd love to hear from you. and if you see this painting in your friend's house, please urge them to return it. thank you.

so apart from the shaky start the rest of the week was lovely. i met so many interesting people, among them a local crab fisherman, a guy who had the task of transporting a life size wired-together replica of the skeleton of the red rum race horse, a man who gave breon o'casey his first exhibition in london and told me about his lavender guinea foul, a man training for john o'groats to lands end cycle ride, a lady who talked to me all about armenian dancing and an enthusiastic rock-collecting drunken local who found my pole a useful support! probably the funniest moment was when a man walked in clutching a gps. it said 'you have reached your destination'. he switched it off and took in his surroundings looking very bewildered. staring at me he said 'where am i?' i replied 'well, you've reached my studio - did you mean to come here?' he still looked very confused. so i showed him a catalogue and where he was. he looked familiar and i was racking my brain trying to place him. he looked like my hebden bridge friend sue's dad but i wasn't quite sure as i'd only met him a couple of times. so i quietly said, 'you look like sue's dad' and he said, 'yes - i am'. but i wasn't quite sure if he knew who i was. so i explained and then said 'did you know you were coming to see me?' he replied 'well, i don't know your surname do i?'. so i chatted to him for a while but i must say i never really discovered if he had realised who i was and had planned to come and see me or if it had just been a coincidence.

the week grew steadily sunnier so it became quite difficult to stay indoors. i found a stripey deckchair someone had thrown out (strange behaviour in a heatwave) and snatched brief moments sitting in it in my doorway. i still don't have any electricity in the space but the wind-up grammar phone cranked out a few rumbas and night lights illuminated my lovely fireplace.

........at a wedding i think you'll find!

window display (with a little nod to former uses!)

window display of pigments

rock pigments and misleading crabs

lone flower - view from window

new wall and beach findings

boxes of coloured collections

more things from the sea

copper verdigris, turquoise, malachite, azurite, lead and rust
wall of birds

display of things found during renovations

interesting objects from nooks and crannies

my lovely fireplace

people often stop and chat in the doorway. beware - i can hear every word!

time for a crackly tune.....

family enjoying chips on the bench.

22 June 2013

aristotle's lantern

a little while back i found the shell of a green sea urchin washed up on secret beach. it was only a couple of centimetres wide. when i got it home i found it was very smelly and had the dried remains of the urchin inside. i gave it a scrub and then dug out the inside debris with the tip of a needle. most of it had rotted away. to my amazement the last little bit came out with a tiny white seed head-like structure attached. excitedly i ran for my very old observer's book of the sea and seashore and looked up urchins. and there on the page was a picture of this amazing little thing - 'aristotle's lantern' (mouth of sea urchin).

it's absolutely fascinating. it's the chewing organ of the urchin and is composed of 50 skeletal elements worked by 60 muscles. and my one is just tiny - only a centimetre tall. you can read more about it on the natural history museum website here.

21 June 2013

jay feathers

i'm always on the look out for blue things in nature as they are quite rare and always feel a little bit exotic. since i've been back in cornwall i seem to have found a lot of dead birds - sadly most of them  have been hit by cars - and most of them have been blue. last year i found a baby blue tit and a kingfisher. a few weeks ago i came across a dead jay whilst cycling home from the studio and a couple of days ago i found another blue tit but this one was ringed. above the number it was inscribed 'british museum london' and i had a stunned moment where i thought it may really have flown all the way down from the big smoke! unfortunately, nothing quite as exciting and neither does it have anything to do with the british museum. but the british trust for ornithology will write and tell me where and when it was ringed.

as a child i used to collect interesting and unusual feathers. i particularly liked the spotted ones from woodpeckers i seem to remember! all my life i've been keen to find a jay's dazzling blue wing feather but i've never come across one. often when i see a jay, without realising it, i still say in my head 'please drop me one of your blue wing feathers'..... but alas, they never do. so in some ways i was quite excited to find a whole one. it meant i could be a bit generous and give a wing to a friend! she has also buried the head in her garden so she can keep the skull.

the feathers are unbelievably vibrant and beautiful. an irish friend of mine said they used to be worn in people's hats for good luck in ireland in the olden days. they were also used on fishing flies to catch salmon, trout and bass.

22 May 2013

open studios

no longer a launderette!
so i'm frantically trying to give the studio a make-over before open studios start on saturday 25th. i'm artist 149 at 22 lower market street, penryn. unfortunately i can't be there myself this saturday as my sister is getting married (at quite short notice!) but a lovely friend will be holding the fort and i will be there sun, weds, thurs, fri and the following sat and sun from 11-5pm. he will be fully briefed but may not be wearing the smock and beret i've been trying to tempt him with!

the discovery of two fireplaces has meant that i'm not as far on as i was anticipating with the studio renovations and i don't have any electricity. but i can make tea on my tranja and although the toilet's in a bit of a state it can be used. anyone with high standards about these things might prefer something less dark and draughty!

i will have a display of all the interesting objects i've found behind the walls, in nooks and crannies and in the fireplaces. it's a chance to see the studio as it progresses and i'd love to meet any historians and locals who can tell me more about the building and it's former uses (as well as anyone who has experience with old walls!).

the window cleaners came yesterday and were appalled by the state of them! they said they'd seen worse but would have to come back again today to finish the job. so it might be more than the £2 quoted. still, there was a moment where the curtains were down and light was streaming through in a way i've not seen it before which was great. i suddenly felt very exposed to the world and replaced the curtains quickly again. lots of different thoughts for how it can be permanently. maximum light but without being overlooked. when i told them i was opening to public on saturday, they laughed!

there have been some road works going on just up the hill which has meant that the section of road outside the shop has been closed. i was thinking it'd be great if it was still the same next week as i could extend my territory, put deck chairs outside and have a little street party. when asking the men at work i inadvertently made their day - "no one EVER wants the road works to continue" beamed a man in a hard hat down a hole. sadly they are due to finish on friday, unless i can conjure up some distractions!

oh yes, and i've suddenly decided to take up the floor tiles which looks much nicer. but it's very time consuming, addictive and like a hard drugs habit....... i keep having to do just one more line. hopefully most of them will be gone very soon and my state of euphoria will have been cheap and worth it.

hope to see you sometime in the week x

floor chipping addiction!

15 May 2013

driftwood adventure

a couple of weeks ago i was feeling very tired from all the physical work i've been doing with the studio and decided it was time for an afternoon off. it was a stunningly beautiful day so i made my way by ferry to the hammock of happiness - a lovely big homemade hammock that someone has tied up on the beach for those lucky enough to find it. on my way i came across a wonderful and very heavy piece of driftwood. it was too heavy for me to lift so i heaved and shunted and rolled it above the tide line thinking how great it would be to build it into the new studio.

now i'm quite stubborn and having already struggled to move it this far i started wondering how i could get it home. the best way, i thought, would be to tow it behind a kayak. but it was too far for me to go on my own and i didn't know if it'd be possible to tow something so large. also, i'm no expert kayaker. so plan b involved borrowing a kayak trolley from a friend and hoping i could wheel it along the coast to the nearest road where we could put it in a car. 

it turned out to be a long and epic adventure! and one that has left me still aching two days later. a very kind friend agreed to help me and between us we wheeled it over rocks, along the beach, up some wooden stairs, up some muddy steps, along the coast path, over two styles, through a small stream, a lot further along the coast path and finally to the nearest road.

one of the most interesting stages was when i set out alone and eventually came to the first style. we realised that there was no way we could tow it back the way we'd come which involved going up the very steep hill and across a dry cow-hoofed field. so my friend retraced his steps to move the car to another further but flatter pick up point. i met four elderly  people out walking who warned me i was about to come to a style. they were all a bit cynical. i then met a lovely and very enthusiastic couple with a baby coming the opposite way and the man insisted on turning around and coming with me back to the style so he could help me over with it. brilliant! all was going well but then i came upon the second style. i waited with my wood. there was nobody around. finally a lady approached but her black labrador was terrified of the wood and took many attempts to summon up enough courage to pass by. she was friendly but more concerned about her dog. a very trendily dressed man hurried by without acknowledging me at all. he didn't look like he'd want to get dirty or do any lifting. and then a very friendly lady offered to help and we got chatting. by the time we'd finished my friend turned up and she left saying that she'd come and see it in my studio! it was interesting to experience the range of people's reactions as i waited stranded by a style with a piece of wood i couldn't move on my own. in some ways i wanted to stay for longer and turn it into a social experiment!

tips for next time :

1- make sure the tyres are fully inflated
2- wear gloves as the rope cuts into your hands
3- use a ratchet strap instead of rope to tie it to the trolley
4- bring food! 
5- advertise open studios on the side!

ready to go

back in the studio serving as a temporary bench