Visual research for collaboration with Pint of Science and Creative Reactions. Looking at the origin of life and it's subsequent evolution
Just before Christmas I ran a marbling workshop with my colleague Mark. The process of marbling was unpredictable and magical as the ink expanded and travelled across the surface of the water, vivid at first and then disappearing, almost invisible. At first it journeyed to the periphery of the water forming new shapes and partitions. Unpredictable configurations of spaces and forms, ephemeral and fleeting. A momentary premonition of what the permanent outcome might be.
The action of dropping the ink onto the surface became mesmerising and I found my mind considering the movement of the ink as a metaphor for change. Geographical shifts mirrored in the way that the ink glided and collided across the surface. Tectonic plates shifting and drifting, land shrinking and expanding, population explosions, migration, borders and territories. It echoed the movement of water and tides, encroaching and retreating, meeting, strong and then still. Currents and rifts, shifting sands, the transporting of silt and dirt, glaciers moving, ice melting.
When printed, the images took on both a micro and macro quality – geographical and biological. They could easily be overhead maps of land, contours, craters and canyons. Edges of difference, water and earth, air and space. The materiality of oil repelling water created the strong defined borders but on closer inspection, these were often blurry, or furred and creeping, as if ready to move again. The edges of the image, where the ink had wandered to its furthest opportunity appear like tributaries, veins, crystal formations, branches, or journeys and paths.
There is also a visual association with the human body and if the images had been in red, these connotations would have been even more explicit. The patterns and shapes reflect those found under a microscope or in a petri dish as well as cross sections of cells, bacteria and disease.
In my original imagery I used blue and yellow inks because I wanted the images to relate to landscape. I then experimented with the colour red to alter the associations. Below are some of the images and crops from the workshop.
I recently gave a presentation of my work so far on ‘Entangling’. This came at a good time. Prior to this, I had been working across ideas, word and text in a fragmented way, with some sequences forming and others remaining partial. So this was an important point to try and understand better the connections, to evaluate and edit the work and its foundations and better plan a way forward.
Through this I have revealed the deeper foundations of my practice. I realised that key influences on this project are rooted in my childhood environment and upbringing. These have influenced my words, narrative and imagination and visually, the way I synthesise, interpret and present information and imagery.
We lived in a village and our bungalow backed onto fields and countryside, typical of Wiltshire, fields, hedges, rivers etc. We would spend evenings and weekends freely exploring this place and it became a wonderful setting for adventures helping form the narratives that are ingrained on my memories and perception. In the distance, the Westbury white horse, historic and majestic, and in the direct, physical foreground, the garden, vegetable patch and the immediate fields. Through the hazelnut trees and gooseberry bushes, a jump down from the wall at the end of our garden and you were in a new world which was free and timeless and limitless, only ended by dinner or piano practice, reality interrupting the stories and play. Dens in hedgerows, building dams, making perfume, hiding, chasing and collecting. The fields were a gateway to the imagination, we’d jump over the fence, and a 4 ft. drop and this transition punctuated the start of adventure.
Along with this, I went to a school in the nearby town and we all studied a subject called rural studies which was the most brilliant thing to learn – growing from seedlings, designing flower patch displays, studying plant diseases, picking apples from the orchard, collecting and inspecting jars of pond water - learning about the balance of nature and human input.
It’s hard to describe how my thoughts and ideas changed the moment I realised that this ideal could be upset. In the 1980’s , the village I grew up in , saw an influx of glue sniffers, meeting in the fields behind our house. As a child, the sight of people passed out with bags of glue was terrifying and the place that had once been so comforting and magical, suddenly became a place we were no longer allowed to go and a place of danger. Human behaviour and its affect on nature , ,upsetting the balance and changing the narratives of nature became themes, which I am exploring on a deeper level with Entangling. Here, though, it is ignorance and mass behaviour that has altered our environment. Entangling echoes this idea of changing nature through behaviour, something beautiful into something ugly, destruction through behaviour and habit,.
In the late 80’s things happened which changed my relationship with nature. Firstly, the trees around the village got Dutch elm disease and started to die – this was my first experience of the uncontrollable force of nature. Then the plains were closed due to an outbreak of myxomatosis. More directly, the village where I lived started to have a glue sniffing population and the fields outside our house became a gathering place for them. I was of course no longer allowed to just wander off at my leisure and the end of the garden became something threatening and brutal. Memories of young people with bags to their faces crept into my other memories. Then came Acid rain t-shirts, Greenpeace and global warming and I moved to a city and sort of forgot about nature.
But human interaction with nature is also very positive and these actions that can restore the balance. My parents and teachers always upheld the preciousness of the natural world and how to respect it. There is a secret tree in a beautiful spot in Cornwall, which my dad planted in memory of my mum. It’s a constructive narrative, an additional narrative, and building good relationships with nature.
My dad who was a town planner directly influenced my visual language and order of seeing. He had an amazing drawing board and a filing cabinet full of expensive delicate pens with fragile nibs. Stencils, rulers, Chinese tablets of colour wash, beautiful brushes, plan chests etc. My dad is also a patient man and would spend time teaching us some of the skills he used for drawing plans – colour washing, drawing thin lines, using a simplified language to describe objects and space. So my projects at school always had beautiful charts- pastel coloured washed and neat. And this diagrammatic precision has shaped the visual language that I enjoy and feel is most authentic to me. Acceptance of this, against the more fashionable and admired spontaneous drawing, has freed me and made me immerse myself in this language. The order and minimal materials has pushed me to explore the potential of both simplicity and complexity of diagrams and drawing. In close comparison, there are direct visual partnering’s – trees, letratone etc. here.
Dad also kept a vegetable plot, growing mainly onions and potatoes from what I can remember but keeping detailed ‘crop’ rotation notations in small book. Planning, nature and growth fitting perfectly into our everyday life. This has led me to become interested in Prepping. The Mad Adam trilogy by Margaret Atwood describes a world , greatly altered by an event that wipes out much of human society. The survivors learn to prep, to store for the present and future. There are many people involved in prepping for what they believe will be an imminent apocalypse. Do I believe this will happen? I don’t know but we are over consuming and this has to have an impact on economy, human behaviour and nature. We have gone from having meat once a week to maybe twice a day.
We were poor, but resourceful and creative. On Fridays we would do the shopping at a place called Walden’s. This is where you could get chickens with one leg and something called ‘miss-shapen pies’ – nothing was wasted. One Sunday we sat down for a Sunday dinner with meat pies. The pies were fruit pies. These are the narratives that stay with me.
Working from above, maps and geographical contour diagrams.
My dad would work on A1 or A0 plans of rooms, buildings and towns, birds eye views, constructed with precision and care. I marvelled over these images, constructing imaginary visions of the potential for these spaces, what they might look like and what might happen there. Similarly, I loved geography at school and became fascinated with the language of maps, contours and cross sections. There is a basic simplicity and precision in converting something that is so vast and epic and experiential into a series of lines and colour in 2D. This basic simplicity was just enough to ignite my imagination to wonder about these places and their material and mood. The interplay between macro and micro and the opposite has fed directly into sections of my graphic novel where land mass and microscopic forms can be read as both.
Using lichen as the form, a seemingly fragile organism which flourishes in even the harshest conditions, from above, with a bird’s eye view, can carry an alternative reading as the form land mass, islands, icebergs and contours, cities at night, movement of people, populations.
When Sue Coe gave a lecture in 2013 she talked about the impact that animal agriculture has on the environment. Almost directly after this, I read ‘eating animals’ and stopped consuming animal products for environmental reasons. This recent turning point has made me become more aware of myself and my principles, and the history of my relationship with nature. I am interested in human connection with the natural world and its impact on the earth.
During the summer, I’ve been working on the layouts for the remaining pages in my book. I arrange, enlarge and crop sections from my own photographs to create the sequential panels and pages. The photos have been collected into a personal library - images from field and study trips from different locations, countries, environments and times. This creates a useful visual reference bank and from this I can select and edit the imagery to use.
When viewing the image library as a whole collection, unexpected arrangements and juxtapositions occur. Random sequences begin to take shape and form connections, which can then direct and deflect the narrative. This can sometimes be magical and uncover threads that I may never have previously visualised. I can produce this random action by using the contact sheet function in Photoshop. My file naming is so disorganised that images start to move around in alternative and undetermined sequences when they are dropped into the contact sheet, pairing and grouping images that weren’t originally intended to work together. The images below are some of the 110 pages that I have finished composing.
Thursday 28 July
Plant based bundle dye workshop at Hauser + Wirth Somerset
This workshop considers environmentally conscious processes for dying silk. Plant extracts, bark powders and fresh flowers and herbs are used with a steaming process in place of chemical dyes and methods. We used a bundle fold process to create repeat patterns over a longer run of fabric. I was interested in this process because of the implications that dying has on the environment, being on of the largest causes of environmental water pollutant. The workshop examined the use of natural dyes through plants as well as the healing properties that could potentially be imbued within the fabric. Herbalism has been recorded and transcribed throughout history with significant pharmacopoeia and compendium being The Canon of Medicine, 1025 by Avicenna, Materia Medica, 1334 by Discorides andNicholas Culpeper's The English Physician Enlarged 1653. A significant amount of knowledge around herbalism was lost during the horrific witch trials of early modern Europe when the research and investigation that these women had carried out was also destroyed.
We were asked to consider the healing property of plants as well as psychological and personal narrative significance that plants might possess.
The selection of plants that I used (roses, cornflower, dill, oakwood powder) were ones that I was initially attracted to but also reminded me of my childhood and narratives around journeys - from the flower beds of my parents garden through to the fleeting images of fields and the English countryside on our way to holidays and day trips. I chose the folded method because I wanted the cloth to mirror the repetitive nature of these journeys - not in a monotonous way but reflecting the beauty of expectation and familiarity. The natural fading of the patterns reflects the failing memory, which is then refilled when the journey is taken again. Stronger memories are prominent stains; single memories that last. These are surrounded by feint marks; distant ghost memories.
After the workshop, I began to consider how this could connect to my project and how the process could work with lichen which are recurring images and themes throughout my book. Further research suggests that the extract of lichen would produce intense colour. I'd like to experiment with the process to see if the saturation of colour from the lichen would alter, be less vivid if the lichen has been affected by pollution. I plan to bundle die collected windfall lichen as well as trying to distil some pure pigment form the lichen itself through a cold extraction process, to then use for screen-printing.
The process of the workshop run by Botanical inks (www.botanicalinks.com) is outlined in pictures below from the spreading of the plants and flowers to the bundling and steaming process. The silk is currently curing after which it will be set through ironing and washed in a PH neutral soap.
A month of fallen leaves
In Chernobyl, due to the effects of radiation, fallen leaves decompose at a much slower rate than is usual. This has a knock on effect to the amount of nutrients that are returned to the soil, which then has an effect on the growth rate of the forests and trees surrounding the area. Lead author Timothy Mousseau , a biologist at the University of South Carolina found this during researching the state of leaves in that area
I set my students a summer project, which was to choose a subject and through repetitive observation, draw and study, observe and investigate that subject, object or idea. I decided to work on series of drawings that explore the structure of leaves. I chose fallen leaves as my subject as it is linked to my graphic novel research and exploration of narrative themes around climate change and the Anthropocene. Visually, I wanted to explore the physical space and shape of the leaves that I collected through marks. The leaf form is protected when it is on the tree, it is fed and held, awake and when asleep. When the leaf falls, the form is altered through lack of moisture, exposure to different textures and surfaces and damage through movement and interaction with other microbes, insects and bacteria.
We regularly see fallen leaves them as a mass. Through studying the leaves closely, I have become aware of the similarities and individuality of different leaves. The process of drawing similar forms has also forced me to extend and expand my visual language for recording these. This sometimes involved more fluid rapid marks and sometimes, determining the elements of the leaves as a more geometric structure. The obsessive drawing and time taken to complete the leaves has hopefully captured the fragility and beauty of something that is transient, fluid and taken for granted.
The project is also a record of my walks from my home to work, collecting these leaves and taking them home to commemorate them through drawing and archive their existence.
The Fourteenth Illustration Forum from the MA Illustration team at Falmouth University is on 18th March 2016. The theme of this forum is BLUE and alongside the symposium, an exhibition of selected works will reflect considerations of this theme.
The earth is composed of blue (sky and water), green (vegetation) and brown (soil) and we naturally and often without thought visualise and assume this. The composition of Earth is balanced and harmonious when these three colours are pure and abundant. However, this fragile aura is disrupted when other colours infiltrate and disturb it, such as fire, smoke, industry and development, human interaction and pollution. These ideas form the overtone for the narratives within Entangling.
Entangling uses colour to encode the narrative and present a subtle visualisation of the disturbance of the earth’s balance. The BLUE sections in Entangling consider our relationship and awareness of water. The following images from Entangling have been selected for the exhibition.
Sky can be all different colours. It can be red, brown and all the colours of the rainbow. You can not feel the sky because it is air and oxygen.
‘Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy is called entangling. (Sun Tzu, The Art of War)
‘Entangling’ is a project which has evolved slowly over the past two years but whose genesis is in my early childhood.
The beginnings of this body of work emerged from my interest in climate change, and love of the natural world, science and weather. The genre of graphic novel has always interested me and its sequential filmic form lends itself to this visual narrative.
This Blog catalogues my research and development of Entangling as well as further consideration of the earlier layers of influence on my authorial voice.
Empathy is established through the construction and deconstruction of image and words, through editing and arranging, spoken or silent. Considered treatment of time and space within this narrative is paramount, this will aide the transportation of viewer.
This project is a visual contemplation on human existence in relation to the shifting flux of our natural environment. It observes our fluid relationship with nature and our existence in the Anthropocene.
Entangling presents a momentary view into the palimpsest of our experiences and actions.