Catching up on ‘Within These Walls’

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It’s a good seven months since I wrote following the installation of my large-scale print project, ‘Within These Walls’. I had hoped to have time to sit and write a poetical and reflective account and in hoping to do that, it never happened! 2017 was a year that was intensely busy, very rewarding but with not a lot of breathing space. Strangely, the one time I had some head space was during the Grassington Festival when I was at the installation for four hours every day and often had little gaps of time alone. During these pauses, I wrote haiku, printed, drew and generally had a very relaxing and fulfilling time. My friend, the photographer Paul Harris, visited the installation and very kindly created this rather lovely film of it. It can be viewed HERE

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The installation was a success in that I had over 335 visitors and all had positive things to say. I was humbled by just how many people reacted to the work within the space saying that it made them feel peaceful, calm & inspired. The word ‘ethereal’ was repeatedly used and many felt that the barn took on the aura of a sacred space such as a church or cathedral. One woman told me she had visited early on a few occasions so that she could have the space to herself and wander amongst the hangings. A few comments from my guestbook sum up nicely the general feeling amongst my visitors:

“really suits the space well and enjoyed the walking aspect to find the barn. Lovely combination of light and shade & movement of the wind on the hangings”

“…the soul of this wondrous dale, thank you…”

“beautiful work in a special ancient place. Hay meadows & swallows – perfect summer image”

“fab to enjoy the swallows, art and barn on the longest summer day, many thanks”

“beautiful work – perfect for this peaceful space. Images make sense of ambient sounds”

“didn’t expect this! beautiful work in a  special ancient place. Haymeadows and swallows in this wonderful old barn. Cheered up a dull day”

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I also hadn’t envisaged just how much I would enjoy being within the space. Everyday was different and the light changed throughout each afternoon. Sometimes I would watch a spot of sunlight travel across the barn floor and up the hangings, other times they would whip about in the wind and, on many occasions, the parents of a brood of swallow chicks would fly amongst them.

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Since the festival, I have had one of the paper monotypes from ‘Within These Walls’ accepted for the New Light Prize Exhibition and it is currently touring having just finished the opening show at the Bowes Museum. I’m at Ålgården in Sweden at the moment and my original plan was to work on some large-scale paper prints to act as an exhibition to show alongside the hangings but, as yet, I don’t have a definite date and space in which to show them and another deadline (my next Collections project show) is looming. Conscious of all the work I need to do over the next few months for the Hepworth Print Fair (with Printmakers Circle), Printfest, West Dean Design and Craft Fair and ‘Collections’ at Sunny Bank Mills (not to mention the fact that I’m part of a team of artists trying to get a Three Peaks Art Trail off the ground for July 2018), I’ve put the development of the work on hold….temporarily. This is a project that I feel that I could work on for quite a few years to come. I’d really like more concentrated time to forget everything else and focus purely on making a body of work related to the installation but as an artist who makes all of their living from their printmaking, that involves exhibitions, shows, art fairs, talks and workshops and so I’m constantly busy and switching between deadlines. I could either do with some development funding or I will just have to work in fits and starts – as and when I can. Either way, I know I have the determination to carry it forward so watch this space!

I also have a new website (which I built in January in between doing my tax return!) so do check it out, it has a gallery for ‘Within These Walls’: www.hestercox.com

My thanks must go to Kate Beard (director of the Grassington Festival) for making the leap of faith and including me in the festival programme; Ian Harland for letting me use his barn and for all his hard work, support and cups of coffee; Paul Harris for his lovely film; Jo Denison for her beautiful photographs; my husband Brian for his continued encouragement and support (especially at 4am when I was lying awake worrying); my mum and Ian for helping on installation day and Matt Light for doing the scary bit of climbing up a huge ladder to install the five 4 metre long hangings (whilst having a small child and large puppy to look after)!

The Installation of ‘Within These Walls’

So now I had five hangings printed, sewn and perspex rods ready to be inserted (thanks Ian Whyte for drilling the fittings!). Ian Harland, the owner of the barn, had worked really hard to clear it and get it ready for the installation. I’d been up there to sweep up, do a risk assessment and cover the shelving with hessian (I bought a 42 metre roll!). Now there was just the small matter of reaching the beams, which are 4 metres from the floor, to fit the screw eyes and tie the rods in. Ian managed to borrow a builder’s ladder and I was going to give it a go myself but I have to admit, despite being a fellrunner and (briefly) a potholer, I was feeling nervous. I really don’t like being up ladders. Its not a fear of heights because I love standing at the top of a mountain, I think its a fear of precariousness! I have been known to get cragfast on rocky ledges when the wind is up.

Fortunately, I got a text from my friend Matt, an arboriculturist and former tree climber extraordinaire, offering to give me a hand. This actually meant he came along and did the whole thing. My mum and her partner Ian were up for the week so they came up too and kept an eye on Matt’s little boy and wrangled his gangly pointer puppy. I was in charge of passing him the pristine white voile hangings and was responsible for making sure that nobody trod on them or got tangled up!

It was a bit fiddly and we’ve come up with all sorts of ideas to make it easier next time I hang them but essentially, the rods and line did the job and Matt made it look very easy. In the meantime, Ian Harland was mowing the grass and making everything look lovely. He has been cultivating two meadows close to the barn and they are glorious. Ian Whyte then pinned up the rest of the hessian which helped to minimise the distraction of the rack of shelving.

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After installing Within These Walls, I distributed the flyers I’d had printed and put direction signs up. I’d also had postcards of four of the plant monotypes printed. Selling them at 50p each not only gives people something to remind them of the installation but also helps recoup my petrol costs for being up at the barn each day. The Grassington Festival team made me a lovely A-board to direct people up the lane and I’m turning a blind-eye to the fact that I’ve been renamed ‘Heather Cox’ 😀

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So that’s the logistics and the installation has now been up for over a week and open for 6 days. I’ve had 138 human visitors so far and 14 dogs! In my next post I will talk more about my personal feelings about the installation now its finished and some of the visitors’ reactions to it but I think its fair to say that I’m not only relieved to have pulled this off, I’m totally delighted with just how well the prints work in the space.

NB thanks to Paula Cox and Ian Whyte for taking photos of the installing part!

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Two Flights of Swallows

So, now to the final hangings…

Having started the printing for the project in January in a world of snow and ice in Sweden, I had got hooked on the idea of doing a flock of crow silhouettes in flight. This is something I often see in the fields around where I live and would have fitted in with my original idea which included more work on the actual wall lines and the geography of the land. However, it didn’t seem very fitting when combined with the meadow imagery and was far too wintery. I briefly considered creating prints of various birds associated with meadows but was wary of it becoming an ‘I spy’ and looking a bit naff. It is quite easy to get hung up on the educational side of things and neglect the aesthetic and I definitely didn’t want to do that. So I decided upon two flights of swallows. This seemed pretty apt considering that I see them feeding over the meadows every day and they are associated with the arrival of summer in the same way that a field of meadow flowers can signal that summer days are here. IMG_1921 (1)

I have to say that these were the easiest hangings to print which was something of a relief (excuse the printmaker’s pun) after putting so much time and effort into the other ones. I started by ordering A3 sheets of 4mm EVA, 2mm perspex and a roll of double-sided adhesive paper. I then spent a day researching the flight patterns of swallows and drawing as many different shapes as I could come up with before tracing them all off and moving them about on long (to scale) strips of paper. When I’d got the designs how I wanted them, I glued each swallow in place and numbered it before scaling up each drawing to fit on an A4 sheet of paper. I then traced each one onto a piece of foam and cut it carefully out with a scalpel before cutting a piece of perspex as a mount and sticking it on to that with the sticky paper. Two days work as opposed to two weeks! 40E2268A-CE48-49C2-AEAF-DB520DD915FBI’d already hired the local village hall (very local, its down the lane that I live on) and I went in on Friday lunchtime armed with all the hangings, screen printing ink for fabrics, foam rollers, and lots of clean newsprint. I got three long tables out, covered them with clean paper, put radio 4 on and got to work. By the time The Archers came on, I’d printed the first hanging. I made sure to stay scrupulously clean, wash off each block after printing, so I didn’t have a massive load to do at the end, and print slowly and methodically to avoid silly mistakes. I used my long scale drawings as a map and I’d numbered each block so I knew which went where.

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After that all I needed to do was to iron all the hangings and roll them up. The next instalment will be the installation…

Large-scale Collagraphs

Its been a long, long road to get to this point but as I write, I’m just about to cut the final blocks for my last two hangings and will be printing them in Horton-in-Ribblesdale Village Hall later in the week. Grassington Festival is a week and half away and I’m up at the barn later today to do some final clearing up. Most importantly, I have also successfully completed my 4-metre collagraph!

I should also mention that I spent a day at ArtisOn Ltd in Masham thanks to the lovely Gaynor and Sue letting me use one of the studios for hemming the five hangings. I am also totally indebted and eternally grateful to Lorraine Garlick and Sheila Smith who gave up their free time to sew 47.5 metres of fabric for me. That is true friendship! I don’t have a sewing machine and I have very little sewing experience so what could have been a total nightmare, was actually pretty straightforward and the results are beautiful.

When I embarked upon this project, I don’t think I fully understood the implications of attempting to print a continuous 75 x 400cm collagraph but I’m glad that I didn’t let all of the set-backs and logistical problems put me off. Working on such a large scale has been challenging but really exciting. First I had to sort my design out so I worked on four pieces of cartridge paper that I divided into 1 inch squares (7 1/2″ x 10″) with the idea that I could then apply a grid to the large pieces of mount board and redraw the design using the sketch as a guide. This did work but the initial drawing took two and half days to do and then each plate took a day to draw out not to mention a day each to cut.

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The finished drawing (hard to photograph!).

My idea was that the collagraph would be a close-up study looking through a bit of meadow with a number of different flower species represented. I chose to include eyebright, yellow rattle, birds foot trefoil, bush vetch, red clover, wood crane’s-bill, meadow buttercup, pignut and sweet vernal grass. These are all species that I’m familiar with and that are found in upland meadows here in the Yorkshire Dales. I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy and detail so each plant needed to be researched and I wanted them to be accurately in scale with each other. FullSizeRenderUsing the grid system to upscale the drawings worked really well and took me back to my college days. I used four full sheets of mount board to make the plates and mainly used cutting, wood glue and gesso to create the collagraph.

I soon realised that printing at that scale, it was best to keep things quite simple but it was still a bit of a challenge to work out how to do the veins on the leaves and pignut is a such a delicate and frothy plant that it did take a lot of work to get the look just right. In the meantime I had been searching for a place to physically print the work because I needed a press that could accommodate a 75cm wide and metre long collagraph plate. No small task and I actually found myself waking in the night and having panic attacks about not being able to print the plates once I’d made them. I even found myself trying to work out how I could get such large pieces of card over to Sweden as I know Ålgården’s press would have been perfect. Fortunately I found out that Northern Print in Newcastle have a lovely big intaglio press and I made an appointment to have an induction and to print the first plate. It is a 2 1/4 hr journey to get there on a good day (with no traffic & no accidents) and my first visit saw me getting up at 5.30am and hiring a dog walker in order to get there on time and not leave my furry pals crossing their legs all day.57F6D87A-07E4-4F88-9D71-6811EE094C84

It was an unbelievable relief to discover that when I book to use the large electric press, I have sole access to it for the whole session and so can work slowly and methodically whilst not worrying about anyone else needing the press or having to reset it. I am now a member of the studio and have plans to go back and create more large-scale collagraphs there.

Each plate initially took an hour to ink and forty-five minutes to wipe in order to get a paper proof. I needed to do that for each one so that the plate would ‘settle’ and I could check it was printing exactly as I wanted it to. It meant that I had to book the press for 2 x three-hour sessions in order to print one section of the hanging. I won’t go into the entire process here as it was lengthy and stressful but imagine trying to handle an inky metre-long piece of card and print it onto a pristeen white piece of four metre voile and you’ll get a bit of an idea. I also had issues with the pressure on the first print and lifted a corner of the fabric to discover that the collagraph was pale and ill-defined. Fortunately I was able to lower it again and tighten the press to get a good print from it. After my first visit with the first successful section printed, I returned home triumphant to recount my exploits to my husband who then asked ‘but how are you going to make sure the plates match up and how are you going to get them all the same tone?’ To be honest, I hadn’t considered this but chose not to think about it too much and just to hope that I could work these problems out as I went along.

It took another two sessions (with the last one being from 10am to 8pm) to actually complete the design but it is fair to say that I’m really happy with it. Sure, there are a few flaws and I know that I could do it better a second time around (which I may have to if my Swedish contact does want to buy one for the hospital) but it is how I pictured it and I can’t wait to see it in situ.

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The first two prints successfully through the press.

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One left to print. Here I am rolling up the previous prints to protect them and make it easier to handle.

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The final print! All ready to roll up with tissue paper for transportation home.

Now I’m working on two flights of swallows that will be block-printed using screen printing inks designed for fabric and won’t require a press. Mind you, there are plenty of other factors that could go wrong but I’m choosing to ignore those for now too!

 

Within These Walls

So, apart from continuing Collections and also making some work for the next Printmakers Circle show (at Sunny Bank Mills in April), I am currently working on a large-scale print installation. This is a huge challenge for me and something that is both exciting and daunting in equal measures. The story behind it (abridged to prevent boredom) is that in 2015 a printmaking colleague asked me if I’d like to join her in creating a print installation in a field barn for the Grassington Festival (highly popular and well-respected arts festival). Never wanting to turn down the opportunity to do something different I immediately said yes. She met with the organisers of the festival who suggested some possible barns and we went on a reconnaissance mission to check them out. This involved yours truly wading about in sheep and pigeon poo to see if the barns were suitable for our idea.

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We found one and duly contacted the owner who was very keen and agreed to let us use it. Roll on to September and I took my colleague over to Sweden to visit the Ålgården studio and we enlisted two of my Swedish artist friends to take part in the project (which was to have a Scandinavian theme). Due to the fact that I was getting married during the 2016 festival and already had a large workload on for 2016, we agreed to work towards the 2017 festival and the idea was to try to get some funding.

Unfortunately, in November 2016 my colleague said she no longer wanted to go ahead with the project and it looked like that was that…except that I have always wanted to work on a large scale and had a head full of half-formed ideas. I realised that I couldn’t ask my Swedish friends to be involved with something where I had no funding, nowhere for them to stay and no real idea of what I was doing or how it would work so I thought I’d see if I could do a scaled down version on my own with a view to expanding on it as a collaboration in the future.

Its safe to say that my ideas have grown and I’ve met with Ian (who owns the barn) a few times and, being a fellow fellrunner and also a keen conservationist, we have hit it off and I’m really excited about what I might do in his barn. Roll on to the present day and I have just completed the first of 5 (or 7 if time allows) 12′ long hangings! But let’s not get ahead of myself as I want to document the whole process.

Firstly, I needed a theme. I didn’t actually need to look that far because I was already documenting and making work based on two meadows close to my house. A Yorkshire Dales upland meadow is a thing of beauty, a habitat for abundant wildlife, a valuable winter food source for livestock, has a rich cultural heritage and, unfortunately, is also seriously threatened by modern agricultural ideas and methods. We have lost 97% of our meadows! Ten years ago, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, set up the ‘Hay Time Project‘ which aims to work with farmers to protect and restore meadows across the Dales and the Forest of Bowland (there’s a very good book available about the project). A good meadow can have up to 130 species in a field whilst the best meadows can have up to 40 species in just a square metre.

Anyway, I’ve been slightly obsessed not only by the abundant species of flowers and grasses in my local meadows but by the drystone walls and field patterns that form our local landscape. The barn that I will be presenting my installation in is a traditional eighteenth century field barn with a mewstead for storing hay and a shippon for winter housing of cattle. I am developing ideas and imagery that I have been exploring via other projects such as in my bookmaking and via Collections. So that’s a bit of background. Next I’ll be writing about the logistics of getting from cluttered headspace to printing 12′ lengths of fabric!

(NB: Within These Walls is the title of my project for obvious reasons)