Lockdown – a change of scene and a new way of working

So much has already been written about the situation we find ourselves in due to Coronavirus.  It has had a massive impact on the lives of many and my husband and I count ourselves to be very fortunate that the impact on our lives has been very small.  I propose to restrict my comments here to focus on how lockdown has affected my days as an artist.

Firstly, my daily routine is now to walk from our house around Chichester Harbour, specifically taking in three different routs from Fishbourne to either Apuldram to the edge of Bosham.  I cannot beach comb here, for although there is water, there is no beach.  Instead of picking up trash and treasure, I have collected images of the wildlife that I have encountered each day.

Secondly, I have found myself feeling the need to have a clear out in the studio.  As you might imagine, I have accumulated a mass array of beach combed items – metal, wood, rubber, plastic, leather, paper – some are kept to be used as a collection, maybe to make an environmental point.  Others remain simply because they appeal to me in some way.  Quite a lot has now gone (of course, it cannot literally “go” anywhere at present, so it is round the side of the house!)  This has been quite liberating.

Thirdly,  through necessity, I am working with what I already have.  It had become a habit to walk a different beach each day and to collect and I confess to spending more time collecting and less time making.  The work that I do all obviously firstly about “the found” but is next about curation.  I need to know what I have to work with and decide which piece fits with another.  For me this is intuitive – I don’t plan ahead but work with what my hand and eye tell me to do.  This does not always work first time and I can spend a day without achieving anything pleasing.  Sometimes, however, I just seem to be “in the zone” and things come together.

My working style grew out an appreciation of the found, the worn and the distressed.  Now that there is no longer a constant stream of materials entering the studio, I can knuckle down and work with what I have.  This is more challenging but I hope it will be just as rewarding.  I plan to revisit my drawers of papers and fabrics, accumulated over several years.  These are not “found objects” in the truest sense but the work that comes from them will be made using “recycled” materials in the sense that I will re-use discarded or unfinished starting points.

Muntz waistcoat
“Muntz Waistcoat” 50cm H x 40cm W x 8cm D

“Muntz waistcoat” is made from found “Muntz” metal, copper and leather, all collected from the Chichester Harbour area.

Muntz metal is an alloy consisting of 60 per cent copper and 40 per cent zinc, named after the English businessman George F. Muntz, who patented it in 1832.

Over the years, I have many pieces, large and small, which are probably fragments of 19th Century ships’ hull sheathing. I am told that there are many wrecks off the coast and, particularly after a storm, metal is left along the shoreline. Although the wooden hulls have disintegrated, the hull sheathing usually remains. I also find large and heavy lumps of wood with copper nails and bolts on a fairly regular basis.  Pure copper sheathing is more reddish in colour, and much harder to find, as it was used mostly before 1832, before Muntz metal was patented.

One of the best examples of a Muntz metal sheathed hull, is the restored stern draft and rudder of the famous British Clipper Ship Cutty Sark that was built in 1869 for the Jock Willis Shipping Line.

Cutty_Sark_Muntz_metal-sheathing_on_hull-1024x682

The restored stern (with stern draft and rudder) of the Cutty Sark elevated 3 metres above its dry-dock under its glass-roofed visitors’ centre in June 2012.

8 thoughts on “Lockdown – a change of scene and a new way of working

  1. Thanks Helen and v well done.

    We have a v large bonfire that we cant burn and more and more rubbish/broken items/old wheel barrows/broken glass that is being collected in one place…. for a future day of tip runs

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  2. Hi Helen, good to see what you are up to.
    Lots of us are having a sort out! Just may not be art related !
    I can identify with worn + distressed at present!
    Hope you + the family are well . Hope Eileen is ok.. We seem to be . Going for a walk later.

    Take care, keep in touch, love Jane xx
    Sent from my iPhone

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    1. Always plenty here to keep me amused Jane and no bad thing to have a clear out! All well here thanks and glad you escaped contamination from the neighbour!

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  3. It must be very hard to change your routine when your art arises from the beach and outdoors, but I daresay it’s also a good time to do some ‘Spring Cleaning’. You’re not the only person doing that chore at this time.

    The Muntz waistcoat is an interesting piece of art. You did well with the material from your hoard.

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    1. I understand totally the changes you are making to your routines and makings. I too have been sorting through my studio, and have found enough work to Last me a lifetime. Similarly I have sorted piles of oddments of fabric, and now am making a quilt. I have found wool and am knitting scarves. I am enjoying no pressure of open studios, exhibitions , or even sales. The most difficult thing remains throwing anything away! I wish you all the best on your new journey. I shall miss your Instagram posts, but for the moment don’t feel ready to engage with blogs, but just Want to let my own mind wander where it will. Hopefully we will catch up again one day in the future, in the meantime I continue to enjoy the little book that I bought from you.
      All best wishes jacky bellamy

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      1. I think it’s really good to have a clear out, physically and mentally – clear the decks and take time over thoughts and ideas. I have done well in the throwing away – we’ve been in this house for nearly 30 years so you can imagine how much stuff has accumulated. I think skips can still be hired so maybe that will come next! Yes, look forward to meeting you again one of these days – I plan to open the studio later in the year when we are free to do so and maybe we can catch up in person then! Good luck with your works and I hope to see them when you are ready to share. Best wishes to you and yours

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    2. No it seems many are taking the opportunity to take stock and realign and on the whole that is probably a good thing. I love the patina of the Muntz metal so always trying to think of ways to use it. Now I need to concentrate on the huge number of pieces of shoe leather that I have! Best wishes

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