home: research, research and inspiration – early 2016 update

water, air and earth

sticks and stones

and, somewhere, fire

.

as the year unfolds

to a new life

within us

.

and you grow

and hold us rapt

in your emphatic personality

.

we deliberate upon Nature

each delicate

and deafening response

.

there is red and black and grey and green

dirt to some

riches to others

.

grinding away

what is left

to leave

.

more

and more

and more

.

we play

and learn

we play together

.

knees

teeth

home

.

home- county clare, Ireland © p ward 2016home: County Clare, Ireland © p ward 2016

The year began with family and friends in a rainswept County Clare, Ireland, my home for 10 years. Many of the places I wanted to revisit and share were beneath meters of water. Things, of course, had changed for better and worse but the spirit of the land still shone through.

home- lake vyrnwy, powys, wales © p ward 2106home: Lake Vyrnwy, Powys, Wales © p ward 2106

Then more mountains and lakes, family and friends, as my brother’s path shifts to the Welsh borders, an area I have not visited before but will visit again. This time snow, ice, fog and sunshine accompanied my journey. Lake Vyrnwy reservoir submerged a Welsh village to supply England with water.

home- Ilfracombe, winter 2016 © p ward 2016home: Ilfracombe, winter 2016 © p ward 2016

And at ‘home’ the winter lashes the coastline, reshaping and reforming. Ilfracombe was originally named after King Alfred and was gifted to two of his sons as a sheltered harbour on the western approaches to his kingdom. Before then an iron-age hill fort overlooked the natural harbour from, what is now, Hillsborough nature reserve. This part of the North Devon coast is formed predominantly from Devonian slates, sandstones and shales and boasts some of the highest sea cliffs in England. We have a new studio here that we hope will provide a base for our creative endeavours and space for others to enjoy.

home- Barnstaple Bay and Hele, North Devon © p ward 2016home: Barnstaple Bay and Hele, North Devon © p ward 2016

home- Holdstone Down, Combe Martin, North Devon © p ward 2016home: Holdstone Down, Combe Martin, North Devon © p ward 2016

let’s talk dirt! (White Moose Gallery, CCANW, Heritage Lottery Fund, Bideford Pottery, IGI Ltd, Roger Cockram)let’s talk dirt! (White Moose Gallery, CCANW, Heritage Lottery Fund, Bideford Pottery, IGI Ltd, Roger Cockram)

In May, as part of the CCANW Soil Culture project, I led a walk and talk with the White Moose Gallery and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to celebrate North Devon’s relationship with its earth resources. “Let’s Walk and Talk Dirt!” involved local potters, Harry Juniper and Roger Cockram, geologists Chris Cornford and Andrew Green, and soil scientist David Hogan to present some different perspectives about our local resources. Participants really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the events but were frustrated by the lack of time to explore the subject matter in more depth. We are now working towards a ‘summer school’ to further explore North Devon’s potteries, pigments, rocks and soils.

Sidmouth, East Devon © p ward 2106Sidmouth, East Devon © p ward 2106

Jacob’s Ladder beach, Sidmouth, East Devon © p ward 2016Jacob’s Ladder beach, Sidmouth, East Devon © p ward 2016

The Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, East Devon invited me in May, to run painting with earth workshops to accompany their ongoing Soil Culture exhibitions. The first workshop introduced the ideas to a small group of partially sighted children from the WESC Foundation, providing a space for us to enjoy the more than visual experience of the process and materials. I was also excited to be exploring a new area of the country, encouraging me to find new pigments and learn about their geology and history. The second workshop, for artists, included an invigorating morning field trip to Jacob’s Ladder beach in Sidmouth to gather small quantities of the iron-rich red and green mudstones, and whatever else took our fancy, followed by an afternoon of furious experimentation grinding and binding a selection of pigments with a variety of mediums. It was great to meet some new faces in such a lively and friendly gallery.

home- Wessex – Branscombe beach, East Devon, Hardy country (chalk and flint) © p ward 2016home: Wessex – Branscombe beach, East Devon; Hardy country (chalk and flint) © p ward 2016

Something that did surprise me was the presence of chalk in the landscape of East Devon. Having been raised in Portsmouth I am familiar with the chalk and flint of the South Downs and Isle of Wight but wasn’t aware of it so far west along the coast. The sedimentary Cretaceous beds at Beer, that I saw from Branscombe beach during a day of research, lie above Upper Greensand that then rests on the more familiar Mercian Triassic red mudstones of South Devon. Apparently there is an ‘unconformity’ here in that the interceding Jurassic layer is missing, the area being land during that era. The nodules of flint and chert present in the Chalk and Upper Greensand that make up the beaches are also apparent in the local architecture creating further similarities to the South Downs and other Chalk areas across Europe.

One such region, that I also feel an affinity with through my ancestry and boyhood cycling adventures, is the Wessex Downs. The ancient country of Wessex encompassed Hampshire, west to the Cornish borders, and Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon and Somerset. In more recent times its character and characters have formed the backdrop for the literary works of Thomas Hardy. I was recently contacted by a research fellow from Exeter University to collaborate in a project to explore the value to health and well being of arts-based environmental workshops. His previous research looked at the work of Thomas Hardy in relation to the Wessex landscape. We are now waiting to see if our initial funding application has been successful before embarking on a major AHRC project around a similar theme. It has been fascinating working with a complete stranger towards a shared goal.

Hele community group sculpture proposal sketches © eARTh 2016Hele community group sculpture proposal sketches © eARTh 2016

Meanwhile, closer to home again we have been working with the local community towards re-landscaping an unsightly patch of ground behind the bus shelter in our village. It was good to be invited, to meet some more of our neighbours, to learn about the history of the village and to think how to we might alter such a space to celebrate the area. It was recently discovered that the area is owned (rather than it being public space) which has put the project back somewhat!?

sketches in wood and stone © p ward 2016sketches in wood and stone © p ward 2016

And back in the studio I have been enjoying putting together some new work (see previous post) using old offcuts of wood, old pots of paint and some new pigments. After 9 months I finally feel like I am settling in, enjoying the space and making something new, as well as finding time for my other interests and beautiful family. With a new arrival imminent we’ll be working hard to keep it up…

jacob’s ladder, earth pigments on canvas © p ward 2016jacob’s ladder, earth pigments on canvas © p ward 2016

corn mill close, masonry paint on painted board © p ward 2016corn mill close, masonry paint on painted board © p ward 2016

offcuts – sketch in wood © p ward 2016offcuts – sketch in wood © p ward 2016

© P Ward 2016


offcuts in an offcut frame – new work 6616

My latest work combines using leftover bits of wood, a love of simple woodworking and an interest in the more everyday applications of paint. While, as artists, it is easy to focus on painting as an intellectually aesthetic discipline or as a means to test and enjoy our powers of observation, manipulation of materials and hand-eye coordination the majority of paints and pigments have been, and still are, used for decorating and protecting surfaces around the house and industrially.

small lengths of timber, wood and earth pigments © p ward 2016 (sold)small lengths of timber, wood and earth pigments © p ward 2016 (sold)

sediment, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016sediment, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016

offcuts in an offcut frame I, earth pigments and household gloss on wood © p ward 2016offcuts in an offcut frame I, earth pigments and household gloss on wood © p ward 2016

offcuts in an offcut frame II, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016 (sold)offcuts in an offcut frame II, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016 (sold)

For example, Bideford Black, a North Devon pigment that I have spent time researching[i], was used primarily in the shipbuilding industry as an anti-foul, as a household paint (Zats Black), to paint tank camouflage in WWII, for dyeing rubber and cement and even for making mascara, but I am yet to find evidence of it being commercially processed as an artist’s pigment. Despite recent local and national artistic interest it is, in my experience, a rather gritty, difficult and dull black material that is prone to sapping the life out of all the other colours it comes close to. So while Reeves of London may have considered another North Devon pigment, Berrynarbour Umber, ‘essential for any paint box’ I cannot see Leonardo sending for some Bideford Black (as he may have for yellow from Naples or green from Verona)! But then it has its very own nature and one that as artists and/or paint makers we can choose to embrace or at least take into account if using it.

offcuts in an offcut frame III, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016offcuts in an offcut frame III, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016

Every pigment I have used has its own quality and spirit, and recognizing and working with this understanding is one of the primary and most exciting lessons I have learnt from gathering and processing pigments. They are all an expression of a place, of a geological process and may carry with them a provenance rooted in nature and social history, as well as qualities that lend themselves to one purpose or another. Similarly, while the colours I often use for display and educational purposes are quite bold (to impress and surprise people with the richness of colour under our feet) the subtlety and range of colours of soils, clays and rocks associated with any site is utterly sublime. This may often be seen when studying the colours of materials and paints used in architecture from region to region and the sense of place this inspires.

displacement, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016displacement, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016

Another area of interest to me, through my alter ego as a painter and decorator, has been the fashion (albeit necessary) for ‘environmentally friendly’ household paint. While industry searches for new products to replace traditionally oil-based paints we are happy to accept (inferior) low-odour acrylic substitutes. I am not sure exactly how household paints are manufactured or what they are made from but do know that acrylics have an equally dubious environmental impact.

four sails, earth pigments on wood and canvas in re-used frame © p ward 2016four sails, earth pigments on wood and canvas in re-used frame © p ward 2016

offcut in an offcut frame, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016offcut in an offcut frame, earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016

From my experience, traditional oil based paints work – they stay on the surface for a good while whereas contemporary substitutes tend to scratch off easily and attract dirt more readily, sometimes removing more of the paint when wiped! To my knowledge oil based paints have been made using plant resins and oils and cleaned and thinned with turpentine – another plant based product. The issue of pollution often occurs in production, cleaning brushes, in disposal and from fumes given off when applying. Whereas modern ‘plastic’ paints, while addressing many of the H&S issues of traditional paints, may stop plaster and stone from ‘breathing’ causing problems with damp and water retention[ii]. This is not to say that there is nothing wrong with good old traditional paint – that we should just ‘get a grip’ over a bit of casual solvent abuse and some dead fish – but that there is obviously still a lot of work to be done to reach a satisfactory conclusion both in terms of environmental impact, health and safety, and durability.

Maybe it is more our attitudes towards and understanding of such matters that need addressing!? Whatever, every circumstance and application is individual as are the solutions…

offcuts in an offcut frame IV (wabi sabi), earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016offcuts in an offcut frame IV (wabi sabi), earth pigments on wood © p ward 2016

Rants and ramblings aside, it has been fascinating cobbling together old bits and pieces of wood to make new surfaces to paint on and seeing how the hand made paint works with the different surfaces. The pieces have taken on a more sculptural feel, playing the illusional 3D qualities achieved by painting off against the shallow relief of the structured surface. Thankfully some of the pieces have already been sold, the buyer commenting on the ‘Wabi Sabi’ quality of the work – a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection[iii], the principle of repair, making new from old, celebrating the beauty of decay and repurpose. While this was not necessarily my intention, I do like the association.

© P Ward 2016

(Note: Apologies for the slightly distorted imagery – the frames are actually square. I have temporarily lost use of my photo editing programme due to a systems upgrade. If anyone knows of a good free photo editing suite that allows you to rotate by degrees and adjust camera distortion, please let me know :-))

_____________________________________________

[i] http://bidefordblack.blogspot.co.uk/p/whats-it-all-about.html

[ii] However, to the contrary, we have recently been experimenting with organic binders, such as rabbit skin glue and gum Arabic, and found that in certain environmental conditions, such as damp and cold, or through errors in preparation, they are prone to rapid disintegration – to mould and flaking. A factor not conducive to good business practice in the production and commercial distribution of fine objets d’art!

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi


simple tasks

.

as an artist experiencing cessations in the creative flow

or an utter lack of enthusiasm for making from time to time

it is heartening to experience how the most simple actions

no matter how difficult they may sometimes be

like folding and tearing paper

grinding some local earth pigments

and painting basic patterns

(with the intention of creating a set of cards for sale)

can enliven my spirits

get the mind ticking again

and lead to a bounteous plethora of new ideas and directions

earth dots (north devon pigments on paper) © p ward 2016earth dots (north devon pigments on paper) © p ward 2016

whether it is something particularly inspiring about the whole process

of collecting pigments in the landscape and making paint

or whether it is evident in all forms of simple creative actions

i’m not sure

but it feels good

and reminds me of how art has enriched and inspired my life for so many years

earth lines (north devon pigments on paper) © p ward 2016earth lines (north devon pigments on paper) © p ward 2016

i like my work

i like what I make

and i am eternally grateful to the universe for offering me these gifts:

the ability to perceive beauty

the aptitude to make beautiful things

and the opportunity to inspire others to do the same…

painting with eARTh day, Hele Corn Mill 15216, images courtesy Sophie Twisspainting with eARTh day, Hele Corn Mill 15216, images courtesy Sophie Twiss

© p ward 2016


valentine

valentines card 2016valentine (coloured pencil on folded paper) © p ward 2016

.

with all the love

in the world

our future yet to unfurl

the clouds above

revealing beauty

.

for Francesca 14216

.

© p ward 2016


back to basics

5 small earth paintings

Beaten by both the need for storage space for my work and, hopefully, a more commercially viable product I have resorted, and returned, to making a number of small earth pigment paintings on paper.

Originally I wanted to explore the layering and removal of water-based paint, similar to my past use of watercolour, using earth pigments. This worked well for one piece but I soon strayed back to the more recent pattern approach that working with earth pigments has inspired.

My method, as in the past, allows the pigments, the colours, textures and forms, to suggest and reveal the form of the finished piece. It can often take a while for the painting to evolve, employing a variety of accumulated intuitive, mark making and aesthetic decisions and skills to move forward. Working in this way is always fascinating, offering outcomes beyond my present understandings.

back to basics 1 – earth pigment dreaming (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015back to basics 1 – earth pigment dreaming (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015

back to basics 2 – black form dreaming (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015back to basics 2 – black form dreaming (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015

back to basics 3 – joyful exchanges (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015back to basics 3 – joyful exchanges (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015

back to basics 4 –  unctuous burnt umber (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015back to basics 4 – unctuous burnt umber (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015

back to basics 5 – grey and cream earth (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015back to basics 5 – grey and cream earth (earth pigments on watercolour paper) © p ward 2015

Each painting measures 21x21cm and is on 300gsm watercolour paper. The pigments, a selection of six hand ground, locally gathered colours from North Devon, have been simply mixed with water and then fixed with pastel fixative. I am now looking forward to making more simple paintings on paper of different sizes to develop this approach.

The original paintings are available for sale online or later in the year at our new studio space at Hele Corn Mill, near Ilfracombe in North Devon.

For more information please contact me at earth.northdevon@gmail.com

© P Ward 2016


a celebration 13116

.

at times

i really do not get Art

its place in my life

or the wider world around me

.

seemingly superfluous pedantic intellectual bickering

over aesthetic form and function

for some fashion or other

in the face of pressing global issues

.

not quite big enough

or loud enough

specific or far reaching enough

to make a difference

(although every whisper counts, I know)

.

baggy point from woolacombe sands, north devon © p ward 2015baggy point from woolacombe sands, north devon © p ward 2015

.

without it (some will argue)

life would be just an incessant instinctive struggle and movement

towards food, shelter and a mate

for nurture within our own nature

to survive within this wildness

.

and

for everybody else

this is quite enough

.

our innate beauty

our diverse evolving nature

our ecologically defined behaviour

in such abundant splendour

and complex contradiction

.

humbly seeking our place

within the heave and flow

of ever shifting forces

.

at times

I do not get art

but thank it once again

for bringing me to these conclusions

.

new year, east clare, ireland © p ward 2016new year, east clare, ireland © p ward 2016

© p ward 2016


Soil Culture: The Publication

The Soil Culture project led by CCANW and RANE will be drawing to a close soon with its final exhibition at Peninsula Arts in Plymouth from 16th January to 19th March 2016[i]. The project as has been documented in a 120-page publication with essays by prominent soil scientists and soil artists, along with illustrated accounts of residencies and other activities enjoyed during the 3-years.

soil culture – the publication (cover), images © p ward 2015soil culture – the publication (cover), images © p ward 2015

My involvement in the project began when I met CCANW director Clive Adams in 2009. I presented him with six small glass pots of ground earth pigments from North Devon. He suggested I meet soil artist Dr Daro Montag at Falmouth University who was just starting an MA Art & Environment Course, which I subsequently attended.

north devon landscape (ground earth pigments) © p ward 2008north devon landscape (ground earth pigments) © p ward 2008

I was invited to join the Soil Culture project development team in 2011. My contribution has also involved workshops, exhibitions and some of the imagery used to promote and support it. I was recently asked to write a short essay for the publication and retake a series of photographs of ground and raw earth pigments to be used for the cover and chapter/section headings…

Soil Culture - The Publication images © p ward 2015raw and ground earth pigments for soil culture publication © p ward 2015

The publication is available from http://www.ccanw.co.uk/ at a price of £15 per copy.

 

© p ward 2016

[i] Peninsula Arts Gallery, Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University, PL4 8AA.
Open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 11am-4pm

 


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