Bird Life in the Dales

I’ve just been to the Dales Countryside Museum for the ‘big handover’ of all of the prints that I’ve taken from Marie Hartley’s wood engraving blocks. There are two sets of 129 prints made from 127 blocks (2 were double-sided!). I had to leave the linocuts unprinted because they’d degraded over time and become hard, cracked and warped. I didn’t want to damage them further and, although I tentatively tried to print one block, I wouldn’t have been able to get a decent print from them. I’m really happy to have played a part in this important archive and to help realise one of Fiona Rosher’s dreams for the museum. I then spent a couple hours reading some of Marie’s diaries that she wrote when she was working and living with Ella Pontefract and then Joan Ingilby.

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The diaries often contain illustrations, poetry, natural objects, christmas cards & other ephemera.

I have just read the heart-breaking entries from the time of Ella’s death and the year anniversary of it. I will write a little more about the women’s lives and the important part that Joan’s friendship played in helping Marie to recover in another post. The diaries that I have just been reading were written before, during and after the second world war and provide a fascinating insight into how it affected the people living in the Dales.

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An entry from 1950 which included petrol rationing tokens.

I’m currently visiting different areas of the Dales (written about in Marie’s books) with a view to collecting ideas for new work and I’m taking photos and making notes of what I see. I’ve got various lists of all the wildlife that I’ve been seeing and I was delighted to find numerous entries in Marie’s diaries that record the birds that she saw each year.

IMG_6152IMG_6153IMG_6158IMG_6154I think that one of the most poignant things is the fact that she refers to seeing corncrakes near Askrigg and these have now vanished from the Yorkshire Dales. I’ve been out and about and seen some really amazing wildlife. Here are some collages of photos taken on my visits to Muker, Keld, Penyghent, Plover Hill and Semerwater.

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Top L-R: lamb on Kisdon, eggshell at Snaizeholme, Lapwing above Stalling Busk. Middle L-R: Red squirrel at Snaizeholme, Curlew, fox cub. Bottom L-R: pied wagtail at Malham, me on Kisdon!, sheep on Kisdon.

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Top L-R: primroses on Kisdon, cloudberry on Plover Hill, Birds Eye Primrose near Yockenthwaite. Middle L-R: Saxifrage on Plover Hill, Bluebells on Kisdon, Mountain primrose on Penyghent. Bottom L-R: cotton grass on Plover Hill, Purple Saxifrage on Penyghent, meadows at Muker

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Top L-R: Oyster catcher at Keld, Wheatear at Muker, Ring Ouzel near Plover Hill. Middle L-R: Sandpiper at Kisdon Force, Lapwing above Stalling Busk, sported flycatcher at Muker. Bottom L-R: Meadow Pipit on Penyghent, canada geese with goslings on Semerwater, grey wagtail at Kisdon Force.

I often run my routes because it means that I can go further and to places that I wouldn’t get to when walking. I don’t mind getting wet in bogs or scrambling through heather when I’m in my running shoes and I also find that I see far more wildlife and the animals and birds seem less bothered by me. I often spot things and hide out of sight so I can watch without disturbing. For me, these times are some of the most joyful in life. I gain a clarity of thought and I often solve solutions to my printmaking conundrums as I’m running up a hill or across an open moor. Running can be meditative and it is the perfect counterpoint to my sedentary days in the studio.

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A golden plover seen near the cairn at the summit of Kisdon yesterday.

I carry a small Canon Powershot camera that fits in my hand or a bumbag and I chose one with a powerful zoom lens. I’m really enjoying sketching from life for this project and am looking forward to doing more landscape studies ‘in the field’ but it is virtually impossible for me to draw fleeting encounters with birds and animals and so I have always spent time watching to get to know them and then used my huge reference library of photos to help me get accurate details in my prints. The rest is then left to my imagination, my memory of landscape and artistic licence! I have enormous respect for the likes of Robert Gillmor who has spent a lifetime studying and drawing birds from life in order to make his exquisite prints.

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Top: Studies from life of grasses and meadow plants which were made to understand the structure for when I am cutting my collagraph prints. Below: lapwing studies made from my photographs to help me understand how they fly so that I can make prints that capture the essence of their behaviour.

Marie, Ella and Joan spent their lifetimes getting to know the Yorkshire Dales and their books are as much about the people living there as of the land itself. Marie’s diaries have many entries about time spent with fascinating people learning about life and traditions in the Yorkshire Dales. Whilst I’m not aiming to write a book about the people of the Dales, I do hope that the artwork I make will show how the landscape has been shaped and moulded by the farming, mining and other human interactions with the land and how, in many cases, that has made incredible habitats for wildlife to thrive. As a result of this project, I’ve already met some really interesting farmers and landowners who have made conservation a priority in their work and I hope that will be reflected in some of my prints.

Loose Ends and Exciting Beginnings!

So…I’m going to be regularly using my blog again for an exciting new project but before I start that, I just wanted to tie up a few loose ends regarding ‘Within These Walls’. Since I last wrote, I have been commissioned to recreate the central collagraph print for a hospital in Sweden. It is undergoing major building work and there is a pillar in the main reception area that they would like to hang my work from so I spent October/November of last year reprinting it! No small order as it required a few trips to Northern Print to use their lovely big electric intaglio press and then I had to line it and sew it.

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The pillar is grey so my contact, Torbjörn, suggested that it it might be better if the material was more opaque. Unfortunately, I used the transparency of the lovely cotton voile so that I could see through to register the plates each time so it looked like lining it would be the best option. That ended up being quite a mammoth task but I used an iron-on cotton interfacing which worked well as it provided a bit of stability too. It was a bit of a nightmare to attach but I was able to hire the village hall again and lay the work out. I was methodical and careful and I also put a few eyelets down the sides so that the work can be secured away from the wall with bolts if needed. Due to a scalpel disaster, I managed to bleed over the work at one point but luckily blood washes out with cold water…

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Then I enlisted the help of my lovely friends Sheila Smith and Lorraine Garlick and they hemmed the whole thing for me. They did the most amazing job including handstitching the pockets for the acrylic rods with invisible stitching. I have learned so much from them both and am forever grateful for their patience and enthusiasm.

Then it was a case of cutting the new acrylic rods to size, securing the screw-eyes in the ends and rolling the whole thing up in acid-free tissue ready for sending by courier to Sweden. It was a little pricey but Euro-Trans Despatch delivered it safely in less than 24 hours! As is the way of the world, building work has been delayed and the hospital isn’t finished yet so I don’t have any photos of it in situ but I promise to post some when I do.

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In summary, I was planning to develop this project but unfortunately, the next venue for it fell through, time has passed and I’ve got involved in other projects but I have been so lucky to have had two of the monotypes on paper purchased for public display in Sweden, the commission for the hospital and also my monotype, Meadowsweet, selected for the 2018/19 New Light Prize Exhibition. I’ve now just found out that the collagraph panel will be on display as part of PrintFest7Oaks in May 2019. I’m so pleased to be a part of this event. It is a print festival held in Sevenoaks founded and directed by Christina France. Christina is also a member of Ålgården Studios and this year she has planned two shows for PrintFest7Oaks. The first will be by members of Ålgården Studios and held at The Kaleidoscope Gallery and I have been invited to show the collagraph at that. I will also be giving a talk at the gallery in the evening of the 9th May to discuss my connection with Ålgården and how the installation came about. I will then have a piece of work as an invited artist for Printfest7 at Ålgården Studio Gallery in September. All exciting stuff and there will be lots of information and links on my website.

So for the next year I am going to be blogging far more regularly about a project that I’ve just begun with the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. look out for the first post on that in the coming days…

Collections

So…what am I up to this year (apart from the usual exhibiting and selling in galleries)? Well, I’m making lots of new work and the majority of it will be for a joint exhibition in November. The show features my printmaking and the work of two friends and colleagues, Josie Bezant and Charlotte Morrison. Josie is an artist (and owner of Masham Gallery) who creates assemblages, collages, mixed-media pieces and paintings and Charlotte is a ceramicist. Charlotte and Josie also run Crafted by Hand (a multi-talented pair!). We’ve all exhibited together before but this is the first time the three of us have worked so closely on a project and shared a common theme.

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I’ve always collected natural objects: stones, bones, feathers, skulls etc., and whenever I am walking or fell running I am constantly on the look out for these ‘natural treasures’. The significance of my finds is important to me. For example I am not so interested in the skull of a rabbit, a very common animal, as I am the skull of a curlew which, for me, symbolises the wilderness, moorlands and the arrival of spring. Coming across a pile of linnet feathers with one lone tail feather from a merlin was so exciting and told a complete story of an act that is rarely seen by humans. It triggered the work below which is called ‘The Huntress’ and features a collagraph print, linnet feathers and a twisted heather branch.

The Huntress

I’m really enjoying using some of my finds within the finished pieces and there will be a number of ‘one-off’ multi-media works at the exhibition. Over the next few months I’ll be writing posts about some of the works that I’m making and you can also read more about the project at our website. Josie, Charlotte and I envisage that this will be an ongoing project and that the exhibition will tour to other venues and perhaps collect more artists along the way.