At the beginning of 2023, I was one of the lucky applicants (c.1 in 4) to be awarded an Arts Council England Develop your Creative Practice (DYCP) grant. This grant provides artists with an opportunity for much needed research and development without any specific need to deliver defined outcomes or make work for public engagement.
Throughout the year I worked through a self-defined programme of studio-based and outdoor skills training, artist walks, making new work and building peer networks. It has allowed me time and space to experiment, take risks and embed sustainable ways of working for next steps in my practice.
I structured this with the aim of enhancing my practice in two areas:
- Using walks to interact with the landscape and forage materials for producing pigments, prints and handmade paper.
- To develop skills in field recordings and soundscapes for presenting in audio trails and sound installations.
Walking and making with the landscape
After looking closely at the wide range of activities and responses I make to walking and landscape, I tried to reduce this to the above “equation” which is helpful as a means of simplifying, or breaking down into elements, how I approach ideas that have a tendency to become complex and multi-layered. By limiting the factors/elements in a process, then performing repeated experiments I could study the characteristics and variability for a range of artistic responses. I began this exploration on a trip along the coast near Looe in Cornwall, where I gathered earth pigments, made drawings, tracings and audio field recordings.
I worked with artist/researcher and educator Dr Lydia Halcrow in the South West to explore walking art practices in the landscape and responding to climate change and biodiversity crises. We met in June at Instow on the Taw Estuary in North Devon for a day of walking, making and discussion. Lydia was mentor/evaluator for my Mosses and Marshes project, and although I was familiar with her practice, it was valuable to discuss this directly and observe her approach to this highly dynamic coastal landscape subject to continual effects of erosion, weather, changes in light, ecology, water flow and human impacts.
With the passing of seasons, I have explored inks, pigments and dyes made with foraged organic and inorganic materials and with various modifiers and grounds. I was keen to learn how to make lake pigments so that I could store inks in dry form, and to develop ways to use inks in printmaking. I have experimented with a number of methods for making printing inks which I have been able to use in linocut/relief, collagraph, monoprint and screen printmaking.
In July, I visited artist Carolyn Morton at the extraordinary and beautiful “wild” allotment she looks after (wild tending) in Moseley, Birmingham. We spent a couple of hours discussing our respective artist practices and discovered many common threads in our approaches to our more-than-human kin. Carolyn has an ever growing archive of inks and pigments and she has gone on to experiment with ways to use inks/plants in combination with digital technologies for inkjet photographic printing and in 3D printing and hand moulding of pots and small sculptural forms.
In working with plants, I hit upon a conflict between my aims to work closely with the more-than-human and to minimise reliance on “extraction”. The original title for this project of unearthing seemed to imply extracting from the Earth whilst I was also looking deeper within the Earth, so my attempt to reconcile these aims is now reflected in the modified title but it is not perfect! I try to adopt indigenous principles in only using plants in abundance and being respectful of the plant and other living beings that might depend on them.
During the year, I put my learning into practice by leading two workshops in natural inks – both making from foraged plants and mark-making with the inks. I also co-led a weekend event Landscape Intensities with artist Joseph Schneider at the Rural Art Hub which looked at ways of developing an artist practice responding to, and with, the landscape.
Alongside the natural inks, I have made handmade paper using foraged materials in my studio which can potentially be used in printmaking, blind embossing, weaving and folded/constructed forms. I plan to continue experimenting with larger scale work at the Rural Art Hub.
Weaving dyed, found or handmade paper and textiles is another line of inquiry and experimentation I have started to follow during the course of this research. The following images are of a quite simple woven form, but I have quickly seen that there are many more possibilities here to explore for combining textures, colour and forms, potentially in direct interaction with landscape elements.
In August, I visited established artist/field recordist and wildlife specialist Geoff Sample in Northumberland to gain direct experience in creating bioacoustics soundscapes using narrative and ideas of place and space. Over two fabulous days, Geoff guided me in studio production and fieldwork techniques with a range of different microphones.
Following on from the Mosses and Marshes project, I continued to communicate with digital-media artist, Kim Goldsmith, who visited UK from Australia for a week at the beginning of August. This was a rare opportunity to meet and make new work together through walking, mapping and using sound. We walked at Whixall Moss and then a few days later I led an unherd! event Listening With with support from Kim. In this event, we walked a circuit between Whixall Marina and Whixall Moss during which the group of participants created a collaborative counter map of our walk and took opportunities for deeper listening to underwater sounds of the peat bog and to inner sounds of trees. We also created a temporary installation in the landscape using recorded videos on mobile phones.
In the remainder of the week of Kim’s visit, we worked together on a feasibility study for a project which would set up artist residencies on farm and involving a range of stakeholders. Both Kim and I would work independently on projects in Australia and UK respectively whilst continuing to exchange/share ideas and outcomes. We held discussions with a number of UK based farmers and artist collaborators including Rural Art Hub, and Molly Brown/Oliver Kynaston at Berllan Deg, Weston Rhyn. We made a visit to Molly and Olly’s agro-forestry project at Templefields to test out some of our research ideas including making sound recordings of soil.
Most recently I have begun an online course led by Kim, The Power of Sound, along with five other artists in UK, Spain and Australia, all interested in developing our skills in sound recording and production methods.
Serendipitously, after hearing Tiny Leaves (aka musician/artist/educator Joel Pike) featured in BBC Countryfile’s The Plodcast, talking about his residency and field recording at the Long Mynd at Cardingmill Valley, he mentioned future plans for recording sounds of mosses in North Shropshire, I got in contact. Shortly afterwards, we arranged to meet at Whixall Moss and spent a few hours walking on the Moss discussing our artist practices and research, and in particular, sharing thoughts and ideas about sound recording. It will be fascinating to follow Joel’s progress in making recordings for use in compositions inspired by the Mosses.
Continually reflecting on findings and mentoring with artist partners supports my research and helps me to plan the next stage of my practice.
In August, I began to put some of the methodologies of interacting with the landscape into effect with a 12 month self-initiated artist residency at two local nature reserves in the flood plain meadows at Doctor’s Field and Poplar Island, both managed by Shrewsbury Town Council conservation department.