15 November 2014

outside the box

the lorry stops in the road calling the traffic to a halt. a massive steel arm cranks upwards and outwards. it swings across to the pavement and a giant crab claw lowers a huge white woven bag to the ground. half a tonne of lime mortar has arrived.

i'm re-pointing my wall. hours and hours of digging and scraping with increasingly smaller and sharper implements has whiled away many days. it's felt like something between giant dentistry and cleaning the mud out of a horses hoof - many horses, many times over.

i hammer up bricks and pack nooks and crannies with 'gallets' or 'pinnings'. i ease mortar deep into the gaps until they are flush and filled. 5 hours, one bag of mortar down, at least 20 more bags to go..... it's slow but satisfying. this is something new. i've not done it before. it reminds me of working with soft clay and the tools are similar to those i've used in pottery and sculpture. and i'm mulling thoughts over in my head.

i'm feeling very angry after reading an article where education secretary nicky morgan has warned young people that choosing to study arts subjects could "hold them back for the rest of their lives". coupled with falmouth university's recent decision to close its contemporary crafts BA, art and environment and theatre courses, i'm feeling disillusioned. but i'm also feeling more determined and sure of my future plans.

it's incredibly sad that our education establishments have become big businesses where the drive for profit comes at the expense of learning. initially i thought it was about money. that contemporary crafts was too costly a course to run. that felt disappointing. but i quickly realised that if falmouth university were really concerned about the course, they would be campaigning to save it themselves. so, yes it's about money, but it's also about value and that is more dispiriting.

i could write so much about the value and benefits of craft - the exercising of logic and problem solving; body/brain co-ordination and manual dexterity; the deepening of our connection with ourselves, our past, our heritage and our environment; our vastly disregarded need for aesthetic beauty, spiritual and emotional/mental well being; and yes, in our current system - economical benefit (especially in rural areas like cornwall). and all of this seems to be enormously undervalued, yet i regard it as being of vital importance in a very fundamental human way.

to cut these courses seems incredibly short-sighted. at a time where there are floating islands of plastic choking our marine life, loss of species, habitats, wild places through the exploitation and exhaustion of natural resources, surely 'art and environment' is one of the most forward-thinking, progressive courses? especially being based here in falmouth with it's rich maritime history and natural beauty. and that's just the environmental crisis. looking at social issues with pressure on food and housing for an increasing population - surely many of the skills learnt on crafts courses are transferable creating independence to do such things as repair homes, bake bread etc. why not create courses that are unique to falmouth - that reflect and celebrate cornwall and it's unique heritage and landscape? courses that fulfil a deep human need that is timeless and sustainable - surely that is a better investment?

it seems that to take away such courses (with the potential for other arts subjects to follow) is to take away our self-expression, self-sufficiency, our playful, free-thinking, creative resourcefulness. without this we are numbed and dumbed and easier to subjugate.

when i studied at art college i became involved in running a food co-op as an alternative to supermarkets. i believed (and still do) that big businesses shouldn't control and profit from our basic need for food and survival. i regard making and creating as another primal need and tantamount for the health and survival of our society. never did i think that one day i may see the necessity to set up independent art courses as an alternative to art college.

today my cousin delivers two old wooden boxes to my studio. one is locked. my grandfather died aged 101 in july. as a young child his woodwork shed was my first introduction to tools and making. he built furniture for our bedrooms and he built boats. i feel privileged to have inherited these tools - works of craftsmanship in their own right. i also feel thankful that i know how to use them. i believe that to cut craft education and facilities in schools, colleges and universities severs a vital link to our past and denies us access to our ancestors and our roots.

why did he stick a bovril label on his mallet? i guess we'll never know!

to show your support please sign this petition to campaign against the proposed closure of contemporary crafts at falmouth university - click here

and to join the very active facebook group you can find the link here 

30 July 2014

the falling tide

'the falling tide' is a collection of work, which celebrates my relationship to the sea and shore. particularly inspired by swimming and beachcombing, i seek to capture my emotional response to this part of my life. i use natural pigments, some of which are collected locally and ground down into a fine dust, on boards layered with gesso and edged in reclaimed lead. 

i collect objects imbued with sea-worn beauty: sun-bleached and fragile, their stories untold. i love both the element of discovery and fine details of these finds: the subtlest colours, tiny patterns, fragmented shapes, textures and rhythms. i strive to convey this visual language within my paintings with sensitivity. for me, this is the poetry of the sea.

these same patterns and rhythms are echoed on a larger scale. as the moon pulls the tide every scattered strand line embodies the passing of time. that which lies hidden beneath the salt water is revealed. the boundaries between land and sea constantly shift.

this work is about discovery and exposure, transition and change, cycles and connections; and it's about finding the space for stillness within this movement and change. it's about facing things, finding the courage to be still, to listen to oneself and reflect. i believe it's important to be curious and to explore, to leave no words unspoken, no stone unturned, but to do so with the lightest of touch.

"i'll call you, and we'll light a fire, and drink some wine and recognise each other in the place that is ours. don't wait. don't tell the story later.

life is so short. this stretch of sea and sand, this walk on the shore, before the tide covers everything we have done."

(jeanette winterson - 'lighthouse keeping')

29 June 2014

catching thoughts

june has been a month of trusting. not knowing and trusting that not knowing will lead to knowing.

lead from the roof of a crumbling georgian town house built in the countyside - traded for hours of painting window frames. that lead has been scrubbed and hammered and persuaded into position around boards. these bound boards have been layered with chalky gesso and sanded in the heat of the midday sun in a garden. morning and evening sea swims. lots.

this collection of white boards stand like gravestones, unwritten and leaning at angles around the room. they surround me. they daunt me. i gather them together for a group photograph - a large family of differing shapes and sizes. i need to learn them, to get to know them for they are new to me.

thoughts flit and fly and some are caught, pinned down for closer inspection. examination. the river is walked at low tide. procrastination. bones of birds and ribs of boats are found. a rusty orange is dug from the bank and further down an assortment of verdigris nails lie exposed in the mud. two rusty keys and a mermaid's purse but no sign of the mermaid who left these behind. what was lost is found. that which was concealed is revealed.

a single heart urchin hangs on the wall. sunlight shifts and flickers on its bare white shell. symbolic of a love and loss. fragile and delicate it pulses persistently through my mind and paintings. the most beautiful thing. swimmers dive through graphite seas and the corroded disc of a can holds a handful of rust-stained cowries. that's all there is. that and music. a lot of music.

'the falling tide' - notes for my exhibition

-isles of scilly - heart urchins whole - heart urchins broken - rare whole heart urchin broken -  treasures to be found on a spring tide - revealing what's normally under the sea - what's hidden is brought to light - exposure - honesty - truth - peeling back layers of the self - discovery - the unknown - self-discovery - from unconscious to conscious

-looking - seeing - investigating new things for the first time - walking where i normally swim - exposure of the foreshore - land unowned by anyone - freedom

-the edge - where water meets land - physical boundaries - ever-changing - personal boundaries - fine tuning - adjustment - poor mental health most resistant to change - good mental health least resistant - liminal space (jane) - place of transition - not knowing

-the pull of the moon - full moon/spring tide - the changing landscape - reflection - solstice fire - stories -  'fiery skies of far away' - silver sea - night swimming - dreams

-clarity - space - the courage to be still - to listen to oneself - to reflect - the tide of life

"i'll call you, and we'll light a fire, and drink some wine and recognise each other in the place that is ours. don't wait. don't tell the story later.

life is so short. this stretch of sea and sand, this walk on the shore, before the tide covers everything we have done."

(jeanette winterson - lighthouse keeping)

20 April 2014

mermaid's purses

back and front of a nursehound egg case covered in beautiful colours

mermaid's purse 
by freethinkersanon

i was also born out of the sea, out of rocky oyster shells and polyphemous waves,
under gulls riding changes in the wind. tied
to coral, to warped twigs in green light, cartilage congealed
into a diamond-winged body, brown above and ghostwhite below, and a trailing tail.
swimmers all of us. what I couldn't see from my point on land i connected
to things i recognized. it rained. water met water, a million drops disturbed

the surface.
but the fish only feel it when the waves grow heavy enough to drag
them into the air. they feel it always. even fused to their element
they breathe the threat

above. where
i walked gulls ran at the waves, caught quick bites, and picked at tidal remains. no
breaks. not since my birth has the sun come
through to here, and the cold water runs wild and foul abandoned
to itself. i never noticed the currents above and below that shook me in
the tasteless pouch of comfort and unliving,
my dark home. the light broke, called me to follow, and my world split and was carried
upward to the gull cries and foamy strings playing on the surface. i catch
it as it comes in

with the waves: a black leathery rectangle with wiry
arms at its corners. it's a mermaid's purse, still thick with the smell of the sea.

on the sand
nearby, half-sunk in foam and nearly invisible where it lies exposed,
is a skate
thrown onto the beach by an earlier wave, tail still
touching the tide as it goes out.

i skim the bottom while threatening shadows of gulls pass over
my body blended with the background. only touches of white where
my wings curl over reveal
me, and the waves protect me for now. i prowl for the dead, scavenging for leftovers

of storms, starvation,
and the hard black tides that strand and take back.
an offshore squall washed up blowfish, foam, and bubbled tresses of seaweed.

a strangled heron
lies spread in flight on a pile of driftwood, cracked beak pointed toward
sky-blue crabs clustered in a collective grave. a rust-skinned hook threatens nothing,
though it lies close to a fish still and silver in the gray light. all around
are fragments of sponge and coral. a string of bleached and broken shells has settled
into a ridge to hold
the water as it comes in, puts its arms out to the things in its reach, and pulls

them close. when
i broke from the blackness it was freedom, it was the beginning
of the new tide.
the wind dies
suddenly and the sun pushes through. from over the water, for a moment,

it becomes
the same sun under the water, rays reflected into sea urchin spines.
the farthest
waves turn blue then, as they approach, they change to aquamarine,
shedding skin
and mingling with white. they roll in. smoky quartz
carries the beat of sand against sand. they reach forward,
and water curls
over land, over itself. its edges end, then begin, in the moment when the foam reaches
the highest point and remains trembling in the wind.

nursehound egg cases. you can report any finds to the 'great egg case hunt' online at the shark trust

09 April 2014

the red scarf

i flick and swish the scarf as i do every time before i put it on. there is still a thin puff of dust that wafts gently into the air even after the vigorous shaking and swotting of the night before. i sweep back my hair and tie it tightly. 

a little while ago i was doing some painting and decorating work. when i started on the ceilings i got fed up with paint falling into my hair so i rushed into a charity shop one morning and grabbed a red scarf. it has white dots on it and is a bit piratey. 

last night as i lay in bed exhausted after pulling the last and most awkward section of the ceiling down,  it occurred to me that maybe i won't have to wear it anymore. i've got so used to it that i haven't really given it much thought. and then i had a little flashback to when i found it in the charity shop. i was in a hurry and  i had a split second thought that i couldn't buy it because it was exactly the same as the one my mum used to wear. there were few other choices. i decided it was the best. and i've been wearing it for building work ever since.

i used to come out of primary school and scan the rows of waiting mothers for the red scarf. i think my mum used to wear the scarf because the rain would make her curly hair frizzy. also we lived on a farm, there was a lot of dirt and she was outside much of the time. often she arrived at the school in wellies, a big muddy anorak with straw and baler twine-filled pockets. and sometimes in the old farm land rover with an open back. as children we loved this as you could lean out into the full force of the wind. one day, i kicked back a pile of fertiliser sacks and found a dead sheep. the downside to the land rover was that we could always get to school in the snow. thankfully most of the teachers couldn't.

but as i grew older i became self-conscious. i remember feeling so embarrassed by my mum's red scarf and i just wanted her to look like the other mums in the village. all these years later i've been wearing the same red scarf with as much carefree abandon, unconcerned by how it looks - just that it's a good practical solution to staying clean.

so after tying the red scarf i reach for the dust mask. my breathing sounds loud, laboured and heavy. i have mental associations of intensive care and diving. with the safety googles that instantly steam up, i feel that i'm about to go snorkelling. rather than waddling into the sea i climb up the ladder and squeeze through a gap into a tunnel of dust sheets. i'm above the alleyway and it's suddenly very silent. a thin film of dust obscures the outside of the googles and i feel that i'm swimming in deeper water. the sun shines through the orange sheet casting a strange burning glow. my head is pressed against a beam, an entire round tree trunk that looks incredibly old. it feels unnerving and unsafe to have so many of my senses obscured. i have partial vision through the right hand side of the goggles and as my hammer strikes the ceiling the dust thickens. i can't actually see the tools so i grope around feeling for them. the bits of dust covered lath look like the crowbar and when i think i've found it, i haven't. i wonder if this is what everyday life is like for a blind or partially sighted person. as the dust thickens i feel i am at the bottom of the ocean. i can only hear my breathing but i can't see a thing. 

later, when i come to shovel the dust into bags i make out a strange object amongst the debris. it's a bone. i've found lots of bits of bone in the fireplace but they've all been small. this one is much larger. i'm wondering what it has come from and why it was in the ceiling.

05 April 2014

cowrie of mourning

i found a black cowrie! unbelievable. i didn't even know it was possible until i read jane darke's book 'held by the sea'. jane is an amazing artist and film maker. her book is an incredibly moving account of her struggle to come to terms with the death of her beloved husband. nick darke was the fabulous cornish poet, playwright, lobster fisherman, wrecker and beachcomber. 

"we were then the only ones who went to the beach below, except for foxes. we never met anyone else there through the winter.

there's another way down, equally difficult, a slippery, narrow path runs diagonally down a long stretch of cliff at pentire steps, the east end of bedruthan. the sand shifts in and out. sometimes the drop at the bottom is a few feet, sometimes twenty five. the sea can move thousands of tons of sand in, or out, in a night. it's a good place for wood to collect. i have a 'necklace' shell from here, the only one i've ever found and a black cowrie, also very rare."

i haven't been able to find anything about black cowries anywhere. i went to a brilliant talk and slideshow (SO much better than a powerpoint presentation!) at the poly - 'oceanic visitors: from whales to sea beans' by marine biologist dr paul gainey. i loved it. he showed us pictures of the most amazing  things washed up on our beaches - and knew the latin names for everything!

there were BIG fishy things that come from far away places and are measured in feet! some of which have squinty, grumpy, crunched up faces, rows of sharp, crooked teeth covered in bacteria and come with their own parasite fish suckered on.... thankfully they don't show up very often (the chinese crab that measured 3ft from front claw to front claw for example!) and there were tiny tiny beautiful things too that somehow manage to make it to our shores from halfway round the world and be found.

recently i've been snorkelling with the hope of seeing a seahorse! i've asked lots of people about them, where to look for them, been warned they are so endangered that it's illegal to tell anyone if you do see one, been told i will never see one...... i was so excited to hear paul's stories about seahorses. one day he found a long-nosed seahorse from a boat near st mawes (maybe i've broken the law?!!!) he didn't have the right camera and wanted to photograph it so he scooped it up and took it home. it lived in an aquarium in his living room for a week where he fed it brine shrimps. pointing to the artificial strands of weed in the picture he said with a smile 'i even gave it some plastic eel grass - see, i'm not a mean man you know!'

paul was also a good friend of nick darke and showed slides of nick's fishing buoy collection. he is fascinated by the fishing gear, lobster tags and sea beans that reach north cornwall via the north atlantic drift. nick and jane made a fantastic documentary called 'the wrecking season' where they trace a lot of these finds back to their owners in places like novia scotia and maine. 

so at the end of the talk i went to ask paul about my black cowrie. he said he hadn't seen one before and that it was probably some kind of melanoma that had turned it black. so the mystery continues......

04 April 2014

above the ceiling..... below the floor.....

a mummified rat fell down with the ceiling!


i found these little 2 inch tall pots when i was planting the crocuses

10 March 2014


"we come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust".   rumi

dust. i haven't got much to say about it other than there's been a lot. in my eyes. in my hair. in my clothes. and even in my ears. 

i've nearly finished pulling the ceiling down. heavy slabs of compacted earth and animal hair have been sailing past my head and exploding into fine clouds as they hit the floor. 

where little bits of ceiling have been hitting the rubble sacks i noticed tiny meteor showers and celestial lights bursting against a black night sky. 


little cosmic dust poem
by john haines

   out of the debris of dying stars,
   this rain of particles
   that waters the waste with brightness...

   the sea-wave of atoms hurrying home,
   collapse of the giant,
   unstable guest who cannot stay...

   the sun's heart reddens and expands,
   his mighty aspiration is lasting,
   as the shell of his substanace
   one day will be white with frost.

   In the radiant field of orion
   great hordes of stars are forming,
   just as we see every night,
   fiery and faithful to the end.

   out of the cold and fleeing dust
   that is never and always,
   the silence and waste to come...

   this arm, this hand,
   my voice, your face, this love.

24 February 2014

walking the coast path - bude to morwenstow - an adventure!

we drink tea in the cafe on crooklets beach and begin our walk at 10am. we've been planning this trip for the last three saturdays and finally we have a lovely storm-free day with morning sun and a gentle breeze. there are three of us and a gorgeous little white dog with fur as soft as a cat. i'm told she is from the pyrenees where her father was a circus dog. he was killed by a wild pig before she was born. then at the age of two her mother was also killed by a wild pig. now at 15 she is as fit as ever but her little legs can't match our stride. 

we haven't gone far before we come across a pregnant sheep that has collapsed in a field. we take a  small diversion to find the farm and leave a message for the shepherd. not so much further on we find a sheep that has fallen off a steep edge and is lying half dead with blood streaming from its eye. it's hard to know what to do as there is no farm in sight. as we are considering options a pick-up arrives and a farmer and daughter brutally drag the sheep down the hill, through the stream. it's bent-back head bashes against the rocks. they hurl it into the back of the pick-up where it lands on its back. he drives off and it's legs are shaking in the air. it's so horrible to watch and we are all saddened. 

the landscape echoes our feelings. jagged black rocks stand in rows like knives. the beach is ink-black stoned and bare. the cliffs are sharp with big overhangs and our path teeters on their edge. it's a harsh and barren landscape. hostile and menacing. spectacular and dramatic.

onwards we wander until we climb down to stanbury beach and have our picnic. again it's black and to my joy it's littered with fishing buoys and driftwood in large quantities. after soup and a sandwich i gather a large pile of wood. but my excitement turns to dismay as i start to discover seabirds. the beach is a cemetery of beautiful birds dashed against the stones. there are mainly guillemots, great northern divers, lots of razorbills, a couple of shags, a couple of fulmars and a puffin. there must be more than 50. the aftermath of the storms.

i sort through the wood wanting to take it all. i compromise and select just a large and heavy bagful! time is ticking by and i'm determined to get to hawker's hut. the eccentric clergyman, poet and antiquarian, parson hawker (1803-1875), built this tiny hut from driftwood and old ship's timbers. and apparently he spent many hours tucked away inside smoking opium and writing poetry! "other eccentricities attributed to him include dressing up as a mermaid and excommunicating his cat for mousing on sundays. he dressed in claret-coloured coat, blue fisherman's jersey, long sea-boots, a pink brimless hat and a poncho made from a yellow horse blanket, which he claimed was the ancient habit of st padarn. he talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church and kept a pig as a pet". what a man!! the entire interior of the hut is carved with names and dates, some as early as the 1890s. i'm envious of the solid oak timbers  and fantasize about beachcombing in hawker's day. my bag of soft pine is a disappointing modern day equivalent. but thankfully it's a lot lighter.

we leave the coast and cut inland to morwenstow church. the gravestones are heavily patterned with lichen. it's past 4pm and we have a long way to go to get back to bude. the little white dog is carried to speed things up. we pick our way through a network of footpaths leading us past old stone farms untouched by time. we have discovered a very authentic part of cornwall. it's intriguing but there is no time for curiosity on this visit.

night falls and i'm beginning to feel a little responsible for the fact that we are NOWHERE near the end! i definitely underestimated how long it would take and on top of that i got a bit distracted with beachcombing! carrying a dog and a bag of wood throw an element of endurance into the mix. it's hard to see where the footpaths begin but somehow we manage. i've been surprised by how little mud there's been..... until now! the puddles in the squelchy mud reflect the sky enough to show us something of the path. my torch is faint but good enough to make out names on signs. we have to do a little back tracking but eventually we see the car welcoming us - a shining beacon of comfy seats. it's gone 8pm and we're very very tired. we have walked solidly for 9 hours. we stumble into the nearest pub bleary eyed and caked in mud. the dj is just setting up for the night's entertainment. i feel a little out of place. we joke about dancing. just standing up again feels like it could be a challenge.

21 February 2014

slowly slowly a studio is emerging.....

a little like the waking tortoiseshells in my previous post things are slowly coming together with my new studio space. they had to get a lot worse before they could get better. in january water started to come up through the floor and having chipped up most of the lino tiles and stripped everything back to a bare shell i could begin to see the source of the problems - always a risk when you delve deep behind years of remedial bodging - that you will discover things you didn't want to find!

february has been a crash course in damp. i've spoken to lots of people about damp, read all about damp, picked my way through many conflicting opinions and sought out a couple of damp experts. my biggest hurdle has been knowing whose advice to follow. i now understand a lot about traditional building materials, techniques, breathability and ventilation. i also understand the basic principles of modern building. the problem is when the two collide and there is a bit of both. i have a traditional granite wall but a thin and badly cast floor of concrete laid on bare earth. under the window bays i dug out sack after sack of damp earth and on one side hit concrete. the other side i just continued to dig and realised there had once been floorboards laid onto bare earth! they crumbled to dust as i tried to pull them up. now i have an indoor garden!

i have also realised that i do not find most builders very helpful. i have an idea of what i want to achieve and run it by a builder and am hit by a wall of nos, 'oh no you can't do that..... NO..... this is what you want to do'. and when i ask why not i'm told that that's just not how it's done. full stop. but slowly i'm weeding out my type of builder. that is a builder/artist. someone who knows about materials and how they work. someone who can think beyond the bounds and conventions of the building trade. i've been fortunate enough to meet a brilliant guy who is a builder but studied fine art sculpture. he was apprenticed to a builder (his dad) at 16 and went on to cast full size people (mostly himself) using building materials - concrete, bricks and resin in his work. i ran lots of my ideas by him and he said YES..... of course you can do that if you want to. at last i had found someone i could trust to chop out and rebuild the bottom section of my wall where the timbers had also been laid onto bare earth. this was a job i didn't want to do as it involved acro-props and maintaining the structural integrity of the building. fortunately it transpired that the wall everyone had told me was load bearing (after i'd already sawn out a big section !!) actually wasn't taking much weight after all (phew!)

daylight under the wall!

a structural engineer's nightmare
i've also had great advice from a friend who is a timber framer. he favours traditional methods and natural materials and has a sculptor's approach to building. like me, he doesn't like plastic and chemicals  or thinks that it's necessary to use them. another friend is a lime plasterer and artist. he has introduced me to the cornish lime company who are passionate about reviving lime as a building material and dedicated to informing people about its benefits. they provide clear information on the different types and uses of lime, natural paint and finishes and much more.

i am committed to using sustainable, natural and recycled materials. i only want to give my money to companies who are not causing environmental damage. i do not want to fill my space with products that leach chemicals into the atmosphere. this mean putting a little more thought and research into things. and everything takes a little longer. but it's totally worth it.

so now with enthusiastic advice from the builder/sculptor i've started to take the ceiling down. this involves getting filthy - years of dust and soot and soil - MORE soil!! just how does that much soil get above a ceiling?! when i unblocked the fire place i ended up with a huge pile of granite and 55 sacks of sooty soil. i weighed one bag and estimated over a tonne of soil. the granite was claimed on free-cycle. the small and medium pieces went to a woman who is building a little wall around her pond. the large and extra large-too-heavy-for-me-to-lift-off-the-ground pieces have found a new home with an archeologist who is building a fire pit in his garden. it must be a big one!

so, onwards with the ceiling. the small joy of embarking upon this task is the knowledge that, within the main area, when this is done there really is nothing else i can possibly take out without demolishing the building itself! and amidst the dust and grime there are funny moments. balanced on the top rung of the ladder i levered a big piece of plasterboard off on three sides, closed my eyes as the layers of dust and soil slid past my head. i looked up thinking there was still more to come and was actually hit on the head by a porn magazine! that must have been stashed away beneath the floorboor boards for a few years. do i mention it to the neighbour i wonder?