I am all settled into my new studio at CAST in Helston, funded by Cultivator, awarded to me at the end of my final year at Falmouth. I am using this time and space to rediscover my practice now I am making outside of university constraints, learning new skills along the way and making my first body of work post-graduation.
I knew I wanted to make a return to the writing of a studio journal when I was back into a regular routine of making. However, I will not have the time to update it as frequently as I did throughout University. I don’t have any internet at CAST and I’m working 6 or 7 day weeks between studio time and my day job. Thus, I plan to post monthly ‘Studio Notes’; roundups of inspiration, exhibitions, news and updates.
The first two weeks I spent cleaning, unpacking, organising and sorting, then started building up my library of natural dyes and pigments. I made charcoal from collected driftwood and used this to return to my technique of frottage - the earth and rock rubbings I moved away from during the making of my degree show pieces.
I also taught myself how to weave. Weaving is a craft I have admired for a long time and I bought a lap loom a little over a year ago with the intention of picking it up as a non degree related hobby. However, degree work inevitably got in the way and I haven’t used it until now. I am keen to incorporate weavings that use naturally dyed plant-based yarns into my paintings, in some way. For now I am weaving for fun and trying to become a little more skilled at it. Now that I have re-embraced the theme of Women’s Work - elevating traditional female crafts to a fine art status - I feel it is an appropriate technique to add to my repertoire.
The paintings are being inspired by a myriad of things. Natural dyes are made from plants, earth and foraged materials - imbuing cotton canvas with a unique sense of place. They are a trace of landscape, indeterminate of a specific location but a marker of place nonetheless. Fabric is washed, dyed, rinsed and hung out on a line to dry. These processes relate to my interest in Women’s Work techniques, which employ traditionally female methods of making.
I look to the Women’s Work techniques of stitch, patchwork, quilting and weaving to inform my process. Visually, the work also takes inspiration from the Japanese technique of mending Boro - where the sashiko stitch is used to patch fabric offcuts together in a functional but equally beautiful way.
I’m looking at how I can elevate techniques that have been swept to one side by the Fine Art world as ‘craft’ and using these methods to make ‘paintings’. By stretching the panels of naturally dyed cloth and yarn over supports, the work is presented as an art form but is very much rooted in the feminine; the act of mending, traditional textiles and ‘making home’.
From a more conceptual viewpoint, the paintings are maps; accurate depictions of landscape, place and time, although not pictorially so. All my work is inspired by the natural world and my own experiences within these landscapes I call home. Living in Cornwall for three years has undoubtedly shaped my creative practice into what it is today. My work reflects on my connection with landscape - and what I can say using materials I have foraged for from the earth and my hands.
Ultimately, the works fall between painting, traditional craft techniques and womanhood, commenting on a deep, connected and rooted experience of landscape as a female artist.
Although the paintings started to come together quite quickly, I found clay a little challenging at the start of the residency. I spent many mornings making only to scrunch up the clay at the end of the day. My hands enjoyed the making and clay relates to my work on such a poignant level that I felt I couldn’t abandon it - so I stuck at it. I started thinking about using clay as a medium for my work rather than just using it to make these traditional vessel and vase shapes I had made for my degree show.
I realised more and more whilst making that my love of clay lies firstly with where it began: glaze making and glaze chemistry. Test tiles excite me and glaze mixing is one of my favourite parts of the process. Then I thought about using clay as a canvas for my library of natural slips, minerals, sands and glazes that are painted on, carved into, rubbed away and manipulated to mirror layers of landscape and history. I am going to make a series of wall pieces - slip cast offcuts of waste canvas - that make reference to my paintings but also manifest as paintings in themselves. I am in the early stages of experimenting with this but it’s something I look forward to taking further.
I also started thinking about making functional ceramics. I tried to resist this for so long, coming from a Fine Art background where function was absolutely not allowed. However I enjoy using other potters’ wares on a daily basis and it felt like a natural progression for me. I think resisting function only led to my sculptural ceramic work becoming more confused.
It took a while for me to accept that I was allowed to make both. It didn’t have to be one or the other. I also wanted to make something affordable - that could be enjoyed by more people who may not be able to invest in art but still wanted to bring something handmade into their daily lives, coloured with Cornish pigments I have collected and developed into glazes.
As I got thinking about it more - the functional aspect of making tableware also links to my theme of Women’s Work. Very early on in the Japanese Yayoi and Jomon periods, before the invention of the potters wheel, it is thought that women made pots with clay for use in cooking, eating and food storage. The functional pieces I will be making are to be used in the home, rather than sitting in a gallery setting or hung on a wall. They are to be used, washed by hand, stacked in a cupboard, sat on a kitchen table.
I will start out by making a small collection of functional drinking vessels, before I delve into any other forms. I am currently playing around with both hand-building and slip-casting processes to form the cups, before I decide on the way of making I will progress with.
The cups will be glazed on the interior and the rim with a transparent food safe glaze and on the exterior with the variety of slips and glazes I have been developing, mixed by hand in the studio from raw materials and foraged minerals. Some pieces will be unglazed on the outside but instead have inclusions in the body of coloured clay using my mineral pigments, wedged into the stoneware. These pieces are in the early stages (mainly in my head and in my notebook) but I should have a small run of pieces ready to share mid-November.
The month of October will be spent refining my paintings, making a few larger pieces for a group exhibition I am involved in later on in the year and moving my ceramic work forward. I will also be curating my first official release of work since my degree show in May which will include paintings, paper works, a small run of functional ceramics and a selection of sculptural pieces.