THIS TOXIC(?) BEAUTY
The 7 colours shown here have been gathered close to historic mining sites in west Cornwall. Some are waste products from tin and copper mining and may contain toxic minerals such as arsenic and cadmium, ironically both used historically in paint and pigment production. Despite being found alongside public rights of way until sufficient mineral analysis has been made of the samples I am unable to share them with the public.
However, I am comfortable enough to start using them myself (with care). Inspired by the milling process used to extract tin I have started to mix the raw materials with water before filtering with a fine sieve. This minimizes the grinding process and hence the possible inhalation of dust. So far I have only used PVA glue as a binder but enjoyed the difference in colour, provenance and nature of the pigments compared to the North Devon pigments I am more familiar with. As such the imagery has started to take on its own character relevant to the materials, the geographical space and my personal experience of Penwith and west Cornwall. I am currently working with Geevor Tin Mine Museum to develop educational workshops using the pigments. The mine itself and attendant museum is utterly fascinating allowing me to better understand the differences between pigments from natural landforms and those extracted from deep underground. In due time I will be able to better share my findings but for the time being here are some of my first paintings made using the wonderful, beautiful but maybe a little toxic Cornish pigments.
As yet the paintings are relatively small (up to 60x60cm) but I look forward to taking some of these ideas to a larger scale and context. If you are interested in any of the work shown here or would like to support or contribute to any further research please get in touch.
With thanks to the people and places of west Cornwall. In particular, the staff of Geevor Tin Mine, Fiona, Natasha and of course Francesca and family for your inspiration and support.
© P Ward 2018
Great Torrington Bluecoat C of E Primary School Workshops 27917
After flying high in the caves of France with some wonderful fellow artists, it was back to the ‘day job’ running a series of painting with eARTh workshops for 8-9 year olds at a local school in North Devon. The school was studying the ‘Stone Age’ and invited me in to share how people would have made paint in the long distant past and learning a bit about local geology.
After getting through the space age security system, face recognition cameras and all, deemed necessary at schools these days, I was, to my surprise, confronted by a school (teachers too) dressed as stone-age people! Whether bad hair, bad teeth and an abundance of nylon leopard-print was apparent in the caves of our ancestors (or whether the people of Great Torrington always dress like this) I would not like to say, but we all had a fantastic day making paint and painting (and messing up the carpet). Sadly, the teachers were surprised by how the children handled paint, art activities being totally side-lined in our present education system for more ‘vocational studies’ (at 8-9 years old ???!!!). However, it was great to offer the opportunity to do some thing environmental and creative. I asked the children to paint pictures of local wildlife – the prevalence of mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers was again a bit of a shock!? I will have to be more careful when walking on Torrington Common in the future.
The results were fantastic – thank you to the children for working so hard and teaching me so much…
© P Ward 2017
some things I have seen, done and made that have made me think, feel and smile over the last few months…
“Reading true literature [Nan Shepherd] reflected, ‘it’s as though you are standing experiencing and suddenly the work is there, bursting out of its own ripeness . . . life has exploded, sticky and rich and smelling oh so good. And . . . that makes the ordinary world magical – that reverberates/illuminates.’ ” taken from Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane.
drawing a line, coast to coast with skedge 13916 © eARTh 2016
with special thanks to francesca, noah, agnes, family and friends for your love, support and companionship 🙂
© p ward/eARTh 2016
To accompany our[i] recent exhibition, painting together, at the White Moose Gallery[ii] in Barnstaple, we offered three workshops to explore the possibilities of creative collaboration through painting with local earth pigments. The first two workshops consisted of morning visits to prominent pigment sites followed by afternoons making paint and painting together on a shared canvas in the gallery. The third workshop was spent entirely in the gallery and looked closer at paint making techniques before using rocks and soils gathered in the previous outings to work with.
North Devon has an extremely rich geology – a combination of Devonian, Carboniferous, Perma-Triassic and more recent glacial deposits – that has shaped the way we have and still relate to the environment. Glacial clays have provided excellent material for local potteries. Copper, iron, sliver and tin were mined on Exmoor. Culm grasslands have offered fertile grazing for beef, dairy and other livestock. And different earth pigments have been extracted for both industrial and artistic applications. Bideford Black (and anthracite) was mined across the region until 1969, while raw umber was extracted from locations around Combe Martin[iii]. But wherever we go there is always an incredibly varied spectrum of earth colours to be used, representing and celebrating sense of place however we choose to express ourselves.
Sharing a surface to work on – in this case a previously prepared canvas – was found to be a fun, if sometimes frustrating, but rewarding and liberating experience. Sharing the whole experience – gathering pigments, making paint, sharing lunch and conversation, working on a communal surface and finally reflecting on the day – offered new ways of working beyond the more often isolated practice we enjoy. It’s not for all but can help shift our practice as artists into new areas, seeing how others work, observing our own methods, habits and expectations from a different perspective and raising interesting questions of ownership, value and public perception towards communal ways of working.
fremington quay eARTh walk 27615
A first impression of Fremington Quay may be that of a fairly non-descript quay on the bend of a muddy estuary. However, when we look a bit deeper a rich history is evident. It was once one of the largest ports in the southwest, exporting iron, wool and clay, amongst other local products, around the world and importing coal and lime from South Wales. Until recently the Quay was a major railway siding, replaced now by the Tarka Trail cycle path extending from Barnstaple to the Ball Clay quarries at Meeth and Peters Marland south of Torrington. Its history is excellently displayed in the newly refurbished museum at the equally excellent café in the old station building.
The Quay sits broadly on the meeting of the Devonian (450 million years ago) and Carboniferous (350 million years ago) geological eras, a weakness in strata marked by the River Taw’s meandering intersection. The underlying carboniferous shales, slates and mudstones of the Crackington Beds, extend west to Hartland Point, and are capped on the southern banks of the estuary by glacial deposits from the Flandrian Ice Age 40,000 years ago. All this creates ideal conditions for the amazing array of pigments to be found along the low cliffs beyond the large disused stone limekiln west of the quay. A few miles inland Fremington clay pits provided fine red clay until 2013, helping establish and maintain the local potteries in Barnstaple and Bideford. The clays were laid down as sediments in glacial lakes and riverbeds. The folds, cracks and twists in the sedimentary carboniferous rocks allow for oxidization of minerals, offering an exquisite range of colours and textures. Some have said that in other countries the site would be considered a national heritage site. For now however it is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
I first came across the site when walking my dog many years ago, noticing the fantastic colours and rocks. However, it wasn’t until I started seriously researching earth pigments that I actually touched the rocks and found the colour. I have since visited with eminent geologists form the Ussher Society and Devonshire Association to learn more about it – although to be honest I wonder if I have not become just more confused, each ‘expert’ offering a different theory of the areas formation, age and make-up.
For the painting together workshop the participants were bowled over by both the area’s history and geology and the amazing array of colours available. The painting we made is, I think evidence, of the lively experience and the richness of the site. It was subsequently hung in the Create Centre in Bristol as part of the Soil Culture exhibition.
Greencliff eARTh walk 15715
Bideford Black has become popular among artists recently, after numerous projects focusing on its local significance and artistic potential. This workshop was therefore, not surprisingly, well attended with 10 participants and thankfully the weather was glorious. While the Bideford Black deposits exposed at Greencliff were the main attraction, there is a good range of other usable pigments easily accessible from the attendant sandstones and clays – white, grey, orange and pink rocks and clays were gathered, along with other beach detritus, and taken back to be enjoyed in the afternoon painting session.
There being more people made for a quite chaotic and crowded painting together experience, with two smaller canvasses being provided to take a specific place in the White Moose show. Limitations and parameters are an important aspect of any creative process and these were discussed at length within the context of the day’s workshop. Participants ranged from experienced artists and students to designers and other interested parties. Again the results and insights gained were an exciting reflection on the site, its history ad geology, the materials and the day’s events.
painting together, White Moose 25715
After a brief overview of previous workshops and introduction to the materials, the final workshop experimented with various methods of paint making including using egg tempera, gum Arabic and PVA glue as binders. As a theme we focused on water and the sea. The rocks, clays and soils we were using were predominantly sedimentary, being laid down thousands and hundreds of millions of years ago under the ocean, by rivers, in lakes or by ice in glacial times. This is an idea that Francesca and myself are both interested to investigate and participants were happy to indulge us.
The group shared their own experiences and relationships with water, and more specifically the sea, and continued to use this as a focus for mark making, imagery and discussion throughout the process. We thought of immersion, of healing, of play, of floating and sinking, of mysterious and murky depths and of a power wild and untamable. We painted creatures and waves. We blew bubbles. We wallowed in mud. One of the challenges was to paint the sea without the colour blue! The paintings success for me lay in its obscurity, its vagueness and shifting focus. Were we beneath the sea or floating in primordial swamp, part of it or separate? Its hard to tell, but we had a great day making it.
Many thanks to Karen and Stella and to all those who took part in the workshops, to all who visited and enjoyed the exhibition, to all who contributed to the work and especially to the White Moose for hosting the exhibition. Unfortunately, we didn’t sell any work and had to cancel the ‘in conversation’ event through lack of interest but maybe that is a sign of the times or of a prevailing attitude in North Devon towards more contemporary/conceptual art forms but also an interesting reflection on people’s response to communal work. But whatever each time we entered the space we felt extremely proud and pleased with the show, with the work we had done together and the experience we had offered all who took part. We have thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to take the show further afield in due course.
But for now, all good things must come to an end…
© P Ward 2015
[iii] According to local sources “no paint box was complete without Berrynarbour umber.” The pigment was mined until the 1790s and ground with ochre from East Down before being sent to London to be included in Reeves paint boxes. I have taken umber from the River Umber that runs through Combe Martin but as yet I have not located the quarries where it was mined.
an investigation in creative collaboration through painting
(in support of my/our latest exhibition in north devon)
Pete Ward and Francesca Owen
White Moose Gallery, Trinity Street, Barnstaple, Devon, EX32 8HX
13th June – 1st August 2015
“Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible” Paul Klee
painting together is a project by North Devon based artists Pete Ward and Francesca Owen that brings together concepts of contemporary art (dialogical art, ecopsychology, environmental awareness and process-based interdisciplinary collaboration) with the more traditional practice of paint making and painting from locally occurring earth pigments. While Pete and Francesca continue to work on individual projects in their shared studio space and on more collaborative pieces together, they will also be inviting selected artists and members of the public to take part in group paintings/makings in various settings and locations, offering workshops and space for reflection and feedback about the project and process involved.
We have occasionally attempted to paint simultaneously, or in turns, on a surface with a fellow artist with varying results, the process often revealing the dynamic of egos and styles. In a similar way we are always responding to the relationship between ourselves as creative practitioners and the medium and environment with which we chose to work. Our experience of working with earth pigments has certainly led to a massive shift in practice both concerning our understanding and relationships with specific colours and the process involved. Earth pigments have also revealed a surprising freedom of expression and confidence seldom felt with more commercially available media – everyone just has a go! However, when working with other human beings a whole set of new questions and creative possibilities arise. For example, who owns the painting and to whom does credit for its creation lie? At what point do our egos let go and the collective subconscious come into play, if at all? How much are our individual actions influenced and dictated by the dynamic ecology of the group? Do guidelines and prescribed parameters help or hinder the process and then how and to what extent? Is the sense of satisfaction of making work together the same or different from working as an individual and how? The ‘art work’ of ancient history and indigenous cultures that we presently enjoy is rarely attributed to a sole artist, but more to a group, tribe or moment/phase in earth’s history. Do these works of cultural expression reach beyond the ego to a place of shared experience, of shared intention and mutual respect for the world we inhabit? painting together as a process will hopefully begin to reveal a sense of art more aligned to such sentiments than the overriding individuality of modern times.
Art may be seen as a space for creativity to take place, for time, ideas and materials to reveal thoughts and processes anew. Whether this is a painting, a poem, a film, a performance, activity or workshop is all the same. Art may be a catalyst for further creative action and thought rather than merely the product of such actions. It is not always for the artist to dictate any specific outcome but to provide and structure meaningful parameters within which we may engage, actively and imaginatively, with ourselves and the world. To make work with others, within a creatively conscious and reflective environment, is therefore an ideal situation to explore and reveal new and inspiring relationships, while also producing work beyond the ego of individual artists to represent a specific and relevant ecological dynamic.
‘These projects mark the emergence of a body of contemporary art practice concerned with collaborative, and potentially emancipatory, forms of dialogue and conversation. While it is common for a work of art to provoke dialogue among viewers this typically occurs in response to a finished object. In these projects conversation becomes an integral part of the work itself.’
(Grant Kester, 2005)
painting together will include opportunities to participate in communal art through workshops, artist’s talks and walks in the local environment as well as the exhibition at the White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple, North Devon. For more information see http://www.whitemoose.co.uk/site/painting-together/
- Working Together http://www.laurahudson.co.uk/blog/2015/6/13/working-together
- for the love of art https://dancingwithdyes.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/for-the-love-of-art/
- eARTh gown https://dancingwithdyes.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/the-beginning-of-making-an-earth-garment/
- TH&TW https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/the-home-the-world-a-report/
- the value of trees https://peterwardearth.carbonmade.com/projects/3915674#1
- 500 Children! https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/500-children/
- Art Trail / Art Trek https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/painting-with-earth-again-a-new-start/
The exhibition at White Moose Gallery has been organized in conjunction with the Centre for Contemporary Arts & the Natural World Soil Culture Project in the International Year of Soils 2015
- White Moose Gallery http://www.whitemoose.co.uk/site/painting-together/
- The Centre for Contemporary Art & the Natural World http://www.ccanw.co.uk/
- International Year of Soils 2015 http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/
P Ward 2015
NEWPORT COMMUNITY INFANT ACADEMY ARTSWEEK 2015 – Soil Culture*
I was recently invited to develop and lead environmental art activities for Newport Community School in Barnstaple, North Devon. The activities offered opportunities for staff and pupils to explore and celebrate our relationships with Nature, in particular soil and local earth pigments. The school has 500 pupils between 3 and 12 years old. A range of activities, including mud painting, making soil balls, bundles of sticks and leaf sorting, were presented to the teaching staff and then left for them to interpret. The communal artworks created were included in an exhibition for children and parents at the end of the week and a 6x1m earth pigment painting made by the whole school was left as legacy of the week’s hard work.
For me to develop such a large-scale event for so many was extremely daunting – how teachers do it day-in-day-out is amazing! It was incredible to see a painting evolve at the hands of 500 children, with only the most arbitrary guidelines, to become a vibrant expression of their experience and of North Devon itself. All participatory group paintings I have facilitated have somehow turned out well, but I have never tried it with 500 children before, and it is certainly a way of working I hope to pursue further in the future. The other simple activities, and reflection upon them, seemed to give children and staff space to try something new and also a space to learn through a different, more hands-on approach. The whole event has given me a great deal of satisfaction and confidence to tackle such events again in the future.
The exhibition was well attended by some most bemused but interested parents looking for their individual child’s work only to find it absorbed into the totality. The school, to their credit, thoroughly got behind both the educational and experiential value of art activities and also the contemporary conceptual nature of the final exhibition. Many thanks to Georgie Treanor for helping organize ARTSWEEK and to the children, teachers and staff for their patient and enthusiastic participation, and to Francesca for her support and help preparing the canvas.
soil . making paint . local history . geology . local resources . environment . culture
INTRODUCTION to TEACHERS PACK
“Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes visible” Paul Klee
Art is one way we learn about the world. The learning and creative processes are based on both sensory experience and reflection. The process and expression of such experience is what we know as Art. From the beginning of human history we have learnt about the world through experience of the materials that are available in our immediate surroundings. From this experience, and through trial and error, we have developed the technologies to enable us to survive. As communications and transport have become more versatile and far reaching we have often lost our knowledge and understanding of the local environment and the materials it provides.
In North Devon, as elsewhere, our culture and identity as a region has been based on the natural resources available. For many centuries the chief industries were mining, for iron and copper, and sheep farming wool on the steep hills and valleys. The soils have promoted a rich and varied agriculture from dairy and beef cattle to crops. Bideford and Barnstaple both had large potteries supplied by clay pits in Fremington and Peters Marland. The potteries have unfortunately closed now but the white ball clay pits at Peters Marland and Meeth still quarry and export clay for use in brick- and paper-making. And, of course, Bideford has a black earth pigment named after it that was mined until 1969. Bideford Black was used in the boat industry, to paint tanks in WW2 and by Max Factor to make mascara.
By learning about the materials in our local environment and appreciating their importance to our lives it is hoped that we may also learn to respect them a little more.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself” Zen Proverb
- THE SOUND OF CHILDREN LISTENING – we have quietly listened to the wind and trees and birds and the sounds of Newport. We have felt the sun and wind and rain on our faces and the earth beneath our feet.
- CIRCLES MADE BY WALKING – we have been walking in big circles on the playing field, making big muddy drawings with our feet.
- 500 children – communal painting on canvas by all members of the school using North Devon Earth Pigments. We have learnt about where paint comes from, how the rocks it is made from are formed, where they can be found in North Devon and how to make paint before adding our mark to the big painting.
- Soil Balls – we have been investigating soil brought in by teachers from around North Devon to see what it is made of and what creatures live in it and then forming it into balls with our hands.
- LEAF COLLAGES – we have been collecting leaves and sorting them to see how many different plants, shapes and colours there are.
- CHARCOAL DRAWINGS – we have been looking very closely at leaves and drawing them using charcoal.
- BUNDLES OF STICKS – we have been gathering sticks from the playing field and tying them together. This simple activity has led to discussions about fuel, building materials and ways of tying things.
- DIRTY HANDS – we have been getting our hands ‘dirty’, covering them and some paper with mud.
- CORDYLINE STRUCTURES – we have been using cordyline leaves to explore natural fibres and making all sorts of things from them.
- WORD WALL – we have been writing down words that the ARTSWEEK activities have inspired.
- SLIDE SHOW – here are some pictures of us exploring, creating and enjoying the activities this ARTSWEEK.
© p ward 2015
To see more of the work visit http://www.newportprimary.devon.sch.uk/artsweek-19th-23rd-january-2015/
* Soil Culture is a project by the Centre for Contemporary Arts & the Natural World to raise awareness about soil through the arts (www.ccanw.co.uk)
a pleasant few days break in west somerset
after a week of hard work inside the studio.
despite a forecast of persistent heavy rain
and a recurrent mechanical inconvenience
there was sunshine
a chance to tidy the garden
to the sound of wind shaking the trees and familiar birdsong
inspiring peace of mind and a few life-art works
to celebrate the simplicity, beauty and creativity of nature
reflections of place and time and relationship
Waste and wastes implies unwanted or unusable materials. The term is often subjective (because waste to one person is not necessarily waste to another) and sometimes objectively inaccurate…[i]
In preparation for a local school’s artsweek I will be leading at the end of January I have been researching some very basic materials such as sticks and leaves and mud, and wheelbarrows… I have been invited, as an environmental artist, to develop a series of activities to engage 500 children between the ages of 4 and 12, and their teachers, with ideas of local ecology, its influence on the region’s historical development and our current relationship with it. 2015 being the UN International Year of Soils, and being one of my own specialisms, I have chosen the theme of SOIL. The activities will allow children and teachers to explore and hopefully learn something about the nature of soil and its importance in all our lives. The activities, designed to be starting points for creative journeys for teachers to explore with their classes, will also lead to an end of week environmental art exhibition including work made by every child in the school. The centrepiece will be a large earth pigment painting built up during the week by the children and finished by a group of ‘gifted and talented’ students who have shown a particular aptitude and interest in the arts. The painting will be left as a legacy for the school and acknowledgement of the hard work accomplished during the week. Hopefully the children and teachers will have an enjoyable and memorable time.
© p ward 2014