Saturday, 4 January 2014

woodland, leaves, rooks and why its good to share ideas...

I've been working with print for many years but in the last year have been really focusing on this and experimenting with some techniques that are new to me - and I've been loving that wonderful sense of playful creative exploration!   I'm now part of the Sherwood Printmakers, led by the wonderful Christina Williams, a studio group based in Nottingham which is incredibly inspiring and supportive - its a big reminder of the difference it makes when you create things alongside a group of like-minded people (and our lovely fuddle lunches are a huge treat too because we all cook vast amounts of food to share!).
I've been really loving working with my photographs and using different print techniques to explore these further.  The combination of photos I've taken on long explorations outside being then combined with layers of inks and papers is really appealing to me!  Its proving to be a really lovely way of re-visiting woodland walks etc.  I've especially loved using a technique with gum arabic and oil based inks: a kind of lithography process which then creates an image very like an old faded photograph.

I love using print with the groups that I work with, its such a tactile medium and it really lends itself to the explorations in marks and textures that very young children make.  Transferring textures and patterns through print invites you to look at objects in a different way - you notice all sorts of additional things.  The intensely tactile nature of print means there's all sorts of wonderful sounds, movements (its a very physical process), layers of colours and so many textures to feel your way around.  There's lots of images of this on the print-making page of my website: 

I've been cutting lino too as part of exploring images and ideas gathered through woodland walks.  I've been really enjoying experimenting with printing onto pages of old books (I have a collection gathered from charity shops and (clean) bins!), there's something really lovely about the way little words peep through the marks created by the lino... 

Some of my work is now for sale on Folksy:



Exploring ways of making little books is another thing I love to experiment with and I've been really enjoying how print-making lends itself to the creation of small books... Its a way of working with all the tiny scraps of textures and patterns that build up through testing out ideas and its also a way of exploring different combinations of images and words.   More images of these are on my website
I've been adding collections of twigs, bark and leaves and found words onto old papers, mono-prints and card scraps that I've bound together in different ways...

Collagraphs are another medium I've been enjoying experimenting with - they really sit alongside my collections of little scraps of papers, cards and odds and ends of different textures!  Its the joy of never quite knowing how different textures will respond with the printing process - unexpected results and "happy accidents" lead to all sorts of further experiments...

The importance of sharing ideas with others and constantly experimenting is something I try to hold on to as much as possible - and its a bit of a life-line when you're self-employed.  I created the prints bellow several years ago when I was working on an early years project in West Sussex with a really gorgeous group of artists - including Teresa Grimaldi:    We ran sessions in several early years settings across the county and a big part of the project was for us to share ideas and create new work together.  We explored the use of vegetable cooking oil and powder paints - printing with all sorts of things and especially loving the feathers left for us by the peacock who lived on the farm where we were staying!





Thursday, 14 November 2013

the flock is flying...

The birds are flying...
Yesterday and today we were incredibly busy installing the birds in the ceiling space at Abbey Campus of Dunkirk Primary School (Nottingham).  It's so wonderful to see them hung in the space, they look amazing (if we say so ourselves!) and its so special to be able to hang up children's creations in this way. 
The birds are hung in the large Victorian ceiling area of the central space that will become the school library.   Every child in the school - and very many parents (see previous blog post) have made at least one bird each to add to this flock.   The birds have been made in a variety of ways and we really love how this gives a quirky feel to the flock - there's such an essence of individuality as well as wholeness and togetherness.

The project is a real illustration of team work.   Julie Wise and I (both artists working at the school) have led the project with wonderful help from Abbie Balkitis, a fine art student on placement with me.  As part of that placement  Abbie has done a brilliant job spending several days checking through all the birds and adding strengthening where needed (she's done a wonderful job of not altering any of the children's creations at all, just ensuring they had enough strong points to take the wires).
 The ceiling area is really high, so we've used a scaffold tower to reach - with an excellent basket and string contraption to pull the birds up to the top!   All of us were excited by this piece of engineering and the children were fascinated watching us as we worked - they loved the basket full of birds being pulled up into the roof space!  My lack of a head for heights meant Julie (who can cope with heights!) did an amazing job tying the birds in at the top of the tower;  I've spent the last two days hunched over on the floor tying fishing line onto the birds and popping them into the basket!    And all of us kept having to stop and gather at various points underneath to assess where the next set of birds should hang!
The birds are all created from old books that were part of the library when the building was Lenton Primary School - it feels special to give the worn books new life in this way.   We now intend to plan some storytelling sessions underneath the birds with the children who made them.  

It's rare to be able to install children's creations in a school in this way.   We've been lucky to have an empty space to work with; from a practical point of view it enabled us to have a scaffold tower up and move it along the room.  But it also sums up so much of the ethos of Dunkirk Primary School in terms of wanting the project to truly be the creations and ideas of the children; for it to be something that enabled each individual to be recognised and valued but which also celebrated community.    Its a project that illustrates wonderfully the importance of involving families in school and we are so pleased that so many parents and carers came along to make birds with their children.

 The natural light flooding into the space has illuminated the birds wonderfully - and we've loved watching it change throughout the day.   There have been some really gorgeous shadows cast onto the walls and great reflections into the windows too.


We've also found ourselves transfixed by the way some of the birds just very gently spin on their own axis - its quite mesmerising to stand / sit / lie underneath and watch them.  We think there are at least 300 hung up there, all at different levels - every time you look you notice new things and different details.






Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A flock of book birds emerges…


Last week at Dunkirk Primary and Nursery School the entire school was busily involved in creating a huge flock of birds – and we’re really excited by the ideas, thoughts and imaginations of the children and adults who worked together to make them.


The birds are going to hang up in the library area of the school’s new campus and every class in the school took part in sessions to make the installation.   We were joined by lots of parents and family members too, which feels incredibly special and is something that always really shines out in projects with Dunkirk.


Abbey Campus, the new part of the school, is in the old Lenton Primary School site.    I was artist in residence at Lenton Primary for a few years and knew the space really well then – so its felt very special to see it brought back to life and given new purpose as a part of Dunkirk School.    Lenton Primary was closed when school role numbers fell and the building stood empty for about 5 years.   A lot of renovation has now taken place and we are busily making the Abbey Campus a place that lets the schools ethos shine through.


The library area is in the older part of the building and has a wonderful high ceiling which cries out for something special to be placed there…   We had lots of ideas but wanted to make something that everyone in school could create a part of.  Its become a key part of projects at the school that we make things in which each child (and as many adults as possible) can place their mark – so that both individuality and community identity is valued.

We had a wonderful stock of old books from Lenton Primary, most are now being used in Abbey Campus but some had become damaged by damp whilst the building had stood empty or were rather worn through use – so, to give them new life and purpose we have transformed these old books into the flock of birds.  It felt a really fitting use for them, especially as they are to hang up in the library.


So, last week Julie Wise (another artist who works in the school) and I set up a bird studio in one of the empty classrooms and throughout the week the whole school came along and made their birds.   It’s a rare treat to have empty classrooms to work in so it was wonderful to be able to set up a dedicated space and create a studio atmosphere (my bird-song identification CDs played in the corner!).  It meant we could cover the walls in images to give ideas and we could hang up all the birds as they were made.


The space worked really well and we also got very excited by the light as it flooded into the room and illuminated the birds, there was a particular time of day in the afternoon when the sun cast the most wonderful shadows through the big windows…


We had decided to have quite a tight design brief with the birds, which gave some interesting parameters for the children to work within.  Normally we are really open to the children investigating very wide factors, but in order for the flock (which was being made by children aged 3-11 and adults too) to hang together and have a “wholeness” to it, we decided that we would use black and white pages as much as possible and create the birds just with the paper – by folding, cutting, scrunching, tearing and gluing…


There was a lot of really interesting problem solving involved in the project.  It was really interesting to have conversations with the children around use of colour (“can we paint them?” etc) - they actually began to look incredibly closely at the book pages to find pattern, shades of black / white / grey and little details of colour etc within this tighter colour palette.   So in many ways a huge aspect of the project was about looking really closely and noticing interesting things about the old books.


It also provided the children with several technical / dexterity challenges – we didn’t want to use tape because that risked coming undone, so the birds had to be glued / stapled / stitched together.   The birds also needed to be as three-dimensional as possible, which gave another interesting sculptural challenge to the children.


We had several basic techniques which we gave each class as starting points – but they could then take these and make them their own, or use totally different ideas to make their birds.  We tried to have techniques which we knew would work for the wide age range of the children – and also techniques which could be adapted and added to in lots of quirky decorative ways.


Of course because we were folding paper, origami cranes made a big appearance – and these really took off in a huge way with the children.   It ended up as a bit of an addictive thing with some children (and adults!) striving to see just how small – and big – they could make their cranes.    I was amazed by what was created – origami cranes as small as my fingernails, origami cranes that carried messages, cranes with babies…   it was wonderful.


Another really key aspect to projects at Dunkirk is the asking of Big Questions – it’s a crucial part of the school ethos.  So, with this project, it was vital that we were not just making birds, the conversations had to be deeper and explore the issues around this.    What do birds symbolise?   Why a flock of birds?   What does the library space feel like now?  How might it feel when the birds are hanging up?  How does it feel making things out of old books?   What do you notice in the old books?  What happens when we each make something that is individual but we put them together to form a group?   What does being individual mean?  The questions went on…


We talked a lot about birds as metaphors and symbols, birds in myths and legends around the world.   One of our wonderful colleagues from Raastala School in Finland was visiting last week and it was really interesting to have conversations with her around stories of birds there.   The children at Dunkirk come from many countries and were able to draw upon all sorts of ideas from all over the world.   We hope to use the space as a story telling area once the birds are installed – the idea of sitting underneath them and watching them as a story is created is really appealing.


Many children also created stories about their birds as they made them.   A really stunning tale was created by one of the nursery children when Julie spent an afternoon working with them – the little girl had made a bird the previous day and then adorned it with stories of lights, coats, covers, nesting, friends and all sorts of really imaginative ideas.


One of the crucial things with projects like this is all the things that happen around the periphery of the design brief.  So, with the birds we had everyone busy making their own bird to add to the flock and then many children went on to invent additions or extensions of this – lots of sculptural ideas with paper folding emerged, birds on nests were made, elements of costumes appeared and lots of children wanted to “play” with their bird before we hung it up to dry.  


It was a busy week for us and I’m also really luck at the moment to have Abbie Balkitis, an art student, on work placement with me for a few months.  Abbie got stuck into the bird project brilliantly (and set the ball rolling for creating teeny origami cranes) and it makes a huge difference having that extra willing and interested person around.  It was also wonderful to have so many adults with us – parents came along with each class and that feels very special, it really adds to the community feel of the school.


We’re really looking forward to seeing the birds in situ soon after half term – and just aware that there’s a lot of climbing up and down and large ladder to make that happen!