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…

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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Monotypes on a Large Scale

Well, as is typical with my working life, I am back home and it has been one big whirlwind of printing for gallery deliveries, teaching workshops and planning new work but the installation is simmering away in the background and I’ll soon be back working on it again.

The good news is that I have been in contact with the director of the Grassington Festival and ‘Within These Walls’ will definitely be a part of it. I’ll be at the barn daily from 12-4pm and I’ll be printing on my portable press whilst there which will be good fun.

So, where was I? Ah yes, reduction monotypes on a grand scale. So the installation  will consist of two hangings featuring block-printed birds, two hangings featuring my reduction monotypes of the meadow flower shadows and one enormous collagraph as a centrepiece which I aim to create to appear as if you are lying in a meadow and looking through the grass. I am excited about working on such a massive scale although it will be a logistical nightmare and I am only hoping that the studio where I’ll be printing it has a suitably enthusiastic and supportive technician who doesn’t mind me taking over the big press!

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Making the monotypes in Sweden was an exhausting but lovely experience. Working on an old lithographic plate (80x100cm), I rolled it up with an oil-based black relief ink (Gamblin) and then I worked from tiny photocopies of my shadow photos. I carefully selected the images so that they would work well as a big design and also reflect the diversity of the plants in the meadows. I decided to work from very small images because I didn’t want to slavishly copy the photos but interpret them and work with the shapes to give myself more freedom. The monotypes were created by wiping away the ink using kitchen paper and hundreds of cotton buds. I must have got through about 500! It was a slow and painstaking process with one of the images taking 13 hours to produce but there was also a meditative quality to it and I think that is reflected in the final imagery.

Working at that scale was surprisingly physical and I was stretching and bending all over the place whilst creating the work. It was one of the reasons why I ran every morning, it helped set me up for the day, energised me and loosened off the stiff muscles from then day before. The woods and lakes were a stunning monochrome winterscape of ice and snow which totally reflected my mood and the work that I was making.

Making the prints consisted of spending most of the day wiping the ink away whilst listening to podcasts followed by some wrangling of the big press and printing onto the fabric first. Strangely, the reverse of the normal monotype process happened by which I mean that the fabric took a small amount of the ink and I was able to create lovely ethereal prints but it left lots of ink behind so I took a second print off on a full sheet of Fabriano Rosaspina paper and got a stronger image (normally the second image is weaker and called an exhaust or ghost print).

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I hung these up as the week progressed and they received a lot of interest from the other artists which was really encouraging. In fact, by the end of my two weeks an artist friend at the studio, Torbjörn Damm, had decided that he wanted to buy two of the prints in his role as art buyer for the region’s public spaces. I was thrilled and he has selected two paper monotypes to be displayed at a hospital in Alingsås. This not only boosted my confidence but has helped generate some decent income for a project that I am funding myself. It has also given me an incentive to expand the project to create a body of work that can be toured in galleries as well as barns…but let’s not get ahead of myself, I haven’t finished the installation yet!

Making the monotypes was so different from my usual collagraph printmaking. I spent ages creating the images on the plate but after I printed each design twice, I then wiped it all away so nothing remained. I like the ephemeral nature of reduction monotype making. It suits the subject matter too.

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Before I left Sweden, I had to pack all of the work that I’d created so that it was safe and protected for transporting by plane. I’m getting better at this and have devised a system of rolling the work around a cardboard tube and them bubble wrapping it so that it doesn’t get marked but isn’t too tightly coiled. In layering everything up, I started to see the printed images overlaid through the translucent cloth and it has given me further ideas for prints.

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So now I am back home and the next stage is to design the collagraph part of the installation. I will create the design on paper and then scale it up to be cut from four full sheets of mount board. Then they will need to be printed in succession on one of the hangings so that the design fits together as a 4 metre image. No mean feat but if it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t be so rewarding!

Smörblomma and Midsommarblomster

Well, the progress report from Sweden is that I’ve completed the prints on two of my 4 metre hangings but I’ll rewind a bit before I talk about that.

On deciding to do this project I had to face up to the fact that I am not a ‘textile person’ and I don’t own a sewing machine. I know nothing about fabrics and I had a few weeks of complete indecision and confusion about what material I should use for my hangings. I am fortunate to have friends that are very good textile artists so I sought their advice on what they thought might be good to print on. My stipulation was for something that would be a bit translucent so that the light would play with the prints, preferably have some stiffness so that it would be easier to print onto and hang nicely and not be too expensive. My friends didn’t let me down, they came back with organdie, organza or cotton voile. I then ordered some metre samples from a textile mill in Bradford called Whaleys. As I don’t have funding, cost was an issue and the voile comes in very wide lengths which could be cut up the middle to make two hangings for every four metres whereas the organdie is lovely but very expensive and too wide for a single hanging but too narrow for two which would mean a lot of wastage.

15995279_1257605010994160_405090192798362724_oThe organza was gorgeous but printing on it with reduction monotypes didn’t work at all so I chose the middle ground of voile and ordered 16 metres (the above image shows a monotype and a collagraph printed on voile). I then had a trip to the mill to pick it up the day before I headed to Sweden and spent a ‘fun’ two and half hours trying to lay it out and cut it into 4 x 4m lengths which I then had to divide in half and cut up the middle. I am so glad that I bought some rather expensive scissors for the job and didn’t try hacking it all with my kitchen scissors!

So, off I trotted to Sweden with a roll of fabric carefully packed inside my new giant kitbag. Last time I was at Ålgården I had had reactive arthritis in my knee and was unable to walk properly so I’d been confined to the studio and the immediate surroundings. Frustrated by my inability to explore further, I’d looked close by for inspiration and had collected some plants to photograph the shadows against my bedroom wall. I worked with this imagery in the studio creating reduction monotypes and photopolymer plates. I also made one very large print of a rosebay willow herb shadow and fell in love with the 1x2metre etching press.

Back in August last year, it occurred to me that I’d like to work with the shadows of the meadow flowers in a similar way but I’d missed the boat somewhat as most of them had either died back, set seed or been cut. Fortunately I managed to gather a few stragglers and took as many photos as I could using my head torch and the spare bedroom wall. It was these that I worked from in Sweden.

I started with a bunch of grasses and I made that print first but then realised that I really ought to design the hangings properly and work on the composition so I spent a day sketching and moving bits of tracing paper about on graph paper until I came up with a good design for two hangings that will hang either side of my 4 metre collagraph. This wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds as I spent an afternoon trying to create graph paper on the computer using word because the studio’s version of adobe was out of date and wouldn’t open the free downloads I got off of the internet. It meant I had to keep using google translate to understand the Swedish commands and it was something of a challenge but I managed it and got an A3 copy done (whilst the photocopier jammed repeatedly). I then went into the framing room and was searching for a ruler and came across a lovely pile of graph paper…I did feel slightly stupid. It’s things like that that make the ultimate success all the more sweet!

More on the reduction monotype process in the next post but before I go today, I’ve had some interesting conversations with some of the artists here and found out that buttercup is smörblomma (butter flower) and wood cranesbill is midsommarblomster (midsummer flower). I’ve also discovered that the meadows are as much under threat here as at home and that our upland meadows have the same species of flowers. Not that surprising really but quite a good link between the two countries that I may be able to use in the future.

Life in the Slow Lane

I’m currently in Sweden at Ålgården again and for once in my life I’ve had to slow down. At the end of July I successfully completed the Lakeland 100. This is a 105 mile race around some of the most beautiful parts of the lake district and I had a really good run. I spent the followng weeks on a high, imagining the future strength I’d have and planning for a Bob Graham Round attempt. Six weeks and lots of running later and I have developed a mystery knee injury and can no longer walk without hobbling. It could be reactive arthritis or it may be an injury that didn’t hurt at the time but certainly does now! I’m being tested and examined and hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of it but it is really debilitating.

However, I’d already made plans to come to Ålgården with a friend and colleague, Barbara Greene. She wanted me to show her the ropes so I thought I’d come anyway and just do whatever I could manage. Barbara and I met through Chrysalis Art‘s Connections North project and were both selected as two of the ten printmakers from North Yorkshire to take part in the Mirror Images exhibition. I will write a separate blog post about that as it is a fantastic project involving forty Finnish, Scottish, Swedish and Yorkshire printmakers. Barbara and I hope to collaborate on a future project so it was a good opportunity to talk and exchange ideas too.

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(a fellow printmaker or an accident in the DIY shop car park?)

It has been frustrating to be able to see the dense forest but not be able to get into it but I’ve made myself look for inspiration closer to home and am currently exploring the traces of nature found in the city and around the studio. I’m working on a few ongoing projects simultaneously whilst exploring ideas for a future project and I’m using the time and wonderful equipment here to try out things that I wouldn’t do at home. I tested a pot of Akua Intaglio ink which I brought from home to see what it was like to work with. It is perfect for reduction monotypes because it doesn’t dry on non-porous surfaces so you can work with it indefinitely before printing. It also cleans up with soap and water and yet the print has the same velvety qualities of an oil-based print. With some precarious balancing on a stool and on one-leg, I managed to produce an A1 monotype that I printed on the lovely big etching press. It has a bed sized 1metre x 2 metres and one day I’ll use the whole thing.

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Creating a reduction monotype on an old aluminium litho plate.

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The beautiful etching press (the big one, there are three!) with my print drying behind.

Whilst I may not be very mobile, I’m still getting about thanks to my very kind Swedish artist friends. Christina picked us up from the airport and drove us to the studio and she also invited us to her house for dinner, Lennart has lent me a walking stick (he’s 80 but says he no longer needs it!) and Torbjörn collected me and drove me to the Borås hospital to show me their amazing art collection (and I stocked up on painkillers). He is project director for the region and organises the buying and displaying of art for public spaces such as hospitals, health centres and dental practices. I was so impressed by the work on show at the hospital and the thought that had gone into its display and selection. Not just the more figurative and accessible work that you’d expect but very good quality contemporary pieces and in all kinds of media such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, textiles and glass. Tomorrow Anna is taking us both to see an arts and crafts place called Nääs so that will be a lovely trip out too.

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Today I made 12 small collagraph plates from plaster creating impressions in them from the fallen birch leaves that I’ve collected. I will print these and hope that the leaves will be very subtle. I then plan to overprint with further imagery relating to the city. I associate the birches so much with Sweden and I find their leaves everywhere, in the studio, on the pavements, in the supermarket etc. I’ve also been making monotypes of the shadows of plants growing round the studio too. All the traces of nature that creep into the city and that I seek out when confined to urban places. Really I’m just playing but that’s why I like it here, it gives me the time and headspace to do that and who knows what will develop from my experiments.

New Ground: Part 2

cdc752b7-98d3-4db6-b187-addd70c4bfc6My exhibition with ceramicist Charlotte Morrison is now up and running at Inspired By…Gallery in Danby. It is open daily 10.30am – 4.00pm until Christmas Eve and then it reopens for the 1st-4th January before becoming weekends only throughout January. The prints on show are a mix of collagraphs, intaglio photopolymer prints and a set of monotypes combined with drypoint. I had lots of ideas for images to create but, as usual, time restrictions and other commitments meant that I had to go with the ones that just couldn’t be shaken whilst postponing some of the others for another time. It would mean writing an essay for me to describe all of the images on show and to explain their origins but there are a few key pieces that I’ll mention here. Charlotte has created some beautiful collections of vases, cups and jugs based on old pathways, drovers roads etc. in the North York Moors national Park. Visit her website to see more of her work.

The first pieces to be made were based on a very foggy run that I went on with my partner and our dog. We parked at Sutton Under Whitestonecliff and ran to Gormire, up through Garbutt wood and onto Sutton Bank, along past the Glider club and down via the white horse, through the plantation to Hood Hill and back via Sutton bank and Gormire. Doing a large figure of 8. The ethereal woods and soft focus views triggered off a series of photopolymer prints developed when I was over at Algarden Printmaking Studio in Sweden. For more details, see my previous blog posts Seeing the Wood for the Trees & Photopolymer Experiments Continued….This is a small triptych that evolved:triptychI also spent months designing and cutting a collagraph plate inspired by the birch copse at the base of White Horse bank and of roe deer that I saw in the area. The birch forest was not too much of a problem as I had had previous success with creating a collagraph plate of one last year but I wanted a small group of deer and the grouping, positions and sizes (not to mention direction) took a lot of fiddling about in order to get it just right. The way that I work is that I’ll sketch out the forest and then I’ll sketch various deer in different positions and then trace them off onto pieces of paper that I can move around on the forest drawing. I’ll photograph all of the combinations so that I can compare them on my laptop and then I use photoshop to flip them to see what the plate will look like when printed (collagraphs print in reverse).

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This is just one example of many attempts. Working like this also helps me to spot flaws in my design such as wonky trees, dodgy perspective and badly drawn anatomy! I ended up completing the drawings in Sweden but then decided not to make the plate until I returned home as it is such a time-consuming process and I wanted to spend the studio time developing my photopolymer work. The final piece was proofed in March.

Passing ThroughOne of the key things about the project was that I was revisiting some of my favourite running routes and I wanted to allude to that in the imagery. Three places that I went to numerous times had quite different flora and topography and I decided that I could use this to make a series of prints. I set aside extra time on one of my visits with Paul Harris (who filmed me throughout the year) so that I could collect plant material from three of the sites. When I got back to the studio, I carefully pressed the different leaves and flowers in the pages of a phone directory and left them for a few weeks to dry. In the meantime, I studied an OS map of the areas and drew out the contours for the hills from where I’d collected the plants. Scratching into pieces of plastic, I created drypoints of the contours.

Over the course of a couple days, I printed the plant matter by rolling ink onto a piece of perspex that was the same size as the drypoints and by laying the plants onto the ink and putting them through the press. When I removed the plants, they left their impressions in the ink and I then printed that onto paper. I did this over and over again, changing the colours and tones of the ink and over printing the plant impressions until I had built up a number of images. I then inked up the drypoint plates and printed them as the last layer of each print. Whilst they were drying, I chose the best two sets of prints from the many variations. I painted blocks of MDF and pasted my chosen prints to the blocks using ph neutral bookbinding paste. The blocks were mounted within white box frames and hung as a series.

IMG_3818Gormire Lake:

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010I’m using colours that reflect the incredible heather moorland at Hawnby for the last of these three prints. Not colours that I normally use but ones that found their way into another of my prints for the exhibition.

The Winter LakeThe Winter Lake was inspired by the view from the Cleveland Way above Whitestone Cliff. I often heard and saw flocks of jackdaws coming into roost on the cliff face above the lake and during the winter months, the birch trees around the lake were leafless but the twigs created a beautiful purple shade. The lake itself is very distinctive in shape and I couldn’t finish my work without creating at least one view of it.

There are many more prints on display including collagraphs inspired by some of the birds that I observed such as wrens, yellowhammers and skylarks but the last two pieces that I’ll include here are ‘layer collagraphs’. They are created by printing four separate collagraph plates with the aim that they will reflect the details of specific places. Textures, patterns and cross sections that I hope will give an impression of Gormire and White Horse Bank during winter and summer:

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I have really enjoyed the year spent researching, visiting the places and creating new prints. I’ve also had a really interesting insight into film-making because photographer Paul Harris has been coming out on location, filming me at ArtisOn, visiting my studio and watching whilst I make some of the work and he has created a really beautiful piece of film as a profile of my work and life as a printmaker. Please do watch it if you can, I think it reflects the whole process very well and the film work is stunning: Hester Cox – Profile of a Printmaker by Paul Harris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Ground: Part 1

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This is the first of a few blog posts detailing the main project that I’ve been working on this year.

Just over a year ago I was approached by Sally Smith at Inspired By…Gallery to see if I would be interested in having an exhibition in Gallery 2 this autumn. Coincidentally I had already been thinking about approaching her with a proposal so this was a great opportunity for me. The space is a lovely clean white room with lots of light and there were plinths available for 3D work so I suggested that I invite another artist to exhibit with me and was fortunate that ceramicist Charlotte Morrison was keen to do it. She had already developed a range of work that explored ancient pathways in the Yorkshire Dales and wanted to push that work further by exploring the old drove roads, monks’ trods and other pathways within the North York Moors National Park.

I am a keen fellrunner and first became familiar with some of the beautiful paths and trails within the North York Moors National Park when I started competing in the Esk Valley Fell Club fell race series. Inspired by the natural history and landscape, I started to explore the area further and soon developed my own favourite running routes.

A large proportion of the prints on display were created during 2014 in response to a calender year spent repeatedly revisiting some of my favourite routes in the Hambleton area. In this way, I was able to observe the seasonal changes that took place and experience the landscape in all weathers. Making notes, taking photos and doing occasional sketches on site, I returned to mystudio to further develop the ideas that came  to me whilst I was running or walking. I was fortunate to observe some of the birds and animals that also visited the area such as hares in the fields near Cleaves Wood, roe deer at Gormire Rigg, the jackdaws that roost in Whitestonecliff, the housemartens that nest at Rouston Scar, a yellowhammer on the edge of the gallops above Gormire and many more.

Gormire Lake has become a favourite place both for running and quiet contemplation. A site that is unique, characterful and full of atmosphere, at times sunny and serene whilst in fog or at night it can seem ethereal and haunting.

PicMonkey Collage1The lake is deep and one of the few natural lakes in Yorkshire. The first time I visited it I disturbed a roe deer that skidaddled into the woods and there were buzzards crying above the tree canopy. I also found a roe deer skeleton amongst the leaf litter near the ‘elephant tree’. It is often muddy underfoot and the smell of the earth and leaf litter is strong.

PicMonkey CollageIn early summer the woodland is carpeted with bluebells. I particularly love the circular route from Sutton Under Whitestonecliff which takes you to Gormire lake, up onto Sutton Bank, along the top trail by the glider club and down beneath the White horse, through the birch woods to the pine plantation and up to Hood Hill. From there I like to take one of a few routes back to Gormire but all mean going up the steep bank again and descending back to the lake so its great fell training.

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Throughout the year I worked with photographer Paul Harris who has made a film about my working process and the first edit can be viewed at the exhibition. When the final version is available, I will post it to my blog for you to see.

In my next post I will talk a bit more about how I created the work on show and the journey from ideas in the studio to framed pieces in the gallery.