I recently attended a course with Jane Ponsford and learnt the basics of hand made paper making. We used cotton rag and in some cases, I combined this with found clay to add colour.
Khaki cotton rag
Deckle, mould and paper
Grinding the found clay
I wanted to combine the hand made paper with some of my found objects and went with some ideas in mind as to how this might work.
Rust dyed made paper on charred wood
Paper dyed with oak gall ink with found staples and fishing net
Paper with found wire
Paper dyed with oak gall ink and combined with weaving
A row of hand made paper on found wood
Hand made paper combined with found metal and wire
Having kitted myself out with the appropriate gear, I am looking forward to experimenting more with the combination of made and found to produce a series of work. The images above are all starting points rather than finished works but I have thoroughly enjoyed learning this new process. Another course beckons in the Autumn looking at sculpting, folding and moulding with paper – can’t wait!
When I started to work with found objects, I began walking along the various bits of coast that I could access on my morning exercise with the dog. I collected any items that caught my eye with a view to using it in my work. However, it was not long before I felt compelled to start collecting the “trash” as well as the “treasure” and, sadly, there is much more of this. People often ask me what has been the most interesting find so I thought I would compile a post to let you know!
In January 2017, I was walking at East Head, West Wittering when I found this object. I had no idea what it was and took a couple of photographs, hoping to discover it’s identity when I got home. I belong to an excellent online group of beachcombers and after many suggestions of coconut or coco de mere, someone suggested that it was part of a human cranium! And so it was! The police was called and the skull sent off for analysis. Sadly, I never got to find out the results but believed it was mostly likely to be from an ancient burial at sea . The Daily Star headline ran “Mystery as ‘shipwrecked sailor” head found on British beach in odd circumstances” and for a day or two I was famous as the story went viral. Of course I did not find a “head”, we don’t know who it belonged to and the circumstances were not “odd”!
I am drawn to all things rusty and confess to having quite a collection of items for use in rust dyeing and assemblage. Here is one I particularly liked sitting on my kitchen windowsill: Once again, it was not long before the alarm was raised and the police followed by the bomb squad visited! I have found several objects since which have been more obviously questionable and now know to call the coastguard rather than bring the item home!
I would guess that most of the litter than I pick up has been either dropped at the beach by visitors or has washed in from the sea somewhere else in the UK. I regularly find old shoes and shoe heels and soles and I think that these come from an old dump on the Isle of Wight some 24 miles away as the crow flies.
I often find objects labelled from overseas. Whilst I can see that some of these have made the journey by sea from their apparent destination, some may have been purchased in the UK. I recently found a label from Brazil, often find European packaging and occasionally things from the USA such as this lobster creel tag from Maine:
I am now in touch with this gentleman’s daughter who lives on a small island in Maine and the family are amazed that I found the tag belonging to Melvin who has just retired from 70 years as a lobster fisherman!
Some of my finds demonstrate the sad fact that plastics are prevalent in our seas and that they will take many many years to decompose – a drinks bottle will take 450 years to vanish! Here a few examples of relatively recent finds (CLICK FOR DETAILS):
2008 walkers crisp packet found 2019
Safety first milk bottle from the 1950’s
War time Dentrifice tin
Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass c 1940 – 50
And, finally, I occasionally find an object and cannot ascertain it’s purpose. I have now found nine of these little rubber items and am still none the wiser – they were found at differing locations but all within 5 miles or so of Selsey. I know someone who has found a couple on the North East Coast of England too. We agree that they are not rubber balls and can only think that they are some sort of protective cover. If anyone could enlighten me I would be delighted!
I now feel settled within my niche of working with found objects. But how did I get to this point? An early influence was Cas Holmes who creates wonderful textiles using found and recycled materials either directly or as tools (I well remember her printing with a malted milk biscuit!) and it seemed to make sense to me to re-use as much as possible in one’s creation. Later I came across the beautiful work of Alice Fox and very much enjoyed a course with her at Studio 11 in Eastbourne. We started each day with a walk along the shoreline collecting items that we could use – in this instance we were particularly looking for items with which we could rust-dye. Before the class started, I was away walking along the beach each morning – there was something about the absorbing way I searched which allowed my eyes to see but my mind to wander in a creative meander. I have never stopped!
Alice suggested that we lay out our finds so that we could take in what we had and how the pieces might work. She also introduced us to the work of a silversmith by the name of Stuart Cairns. Whilst I do not have the ability to make the beautiful objects that Stuart makes, he inspired me to continue to work with the found. I do not seek to copy his work (I do not have the skill!) but I greatly admire it and so jumped at the chance to see his current exhibition which runs at “Make”, Hauser at Wirth in Bruton, Somerset until Saturday.
If I had to sum up Stuart’s work in three words they would be: beautiful, delicate, fragile. Each piece is so perfectly judged – just the right amount of detail, just the right balance between found and made. Do have a look at his website but the objects really do need to be seen to be appreciated in full.
I would also just like to mention the work of ceramicist Elaine Bolt. Elaine also appreciates Stuart’s work and has been supportive of me in the past. I think you will see that same sense of balance in her pieces and the apparent simplicity of the work. I say apparent because of course none of these artists produce their work with ease or without a great deal of hard work and study. I tried working with porcelain with Elaine once – an unmitigated disaster!
So, I will continue to work in my own way but always admiring these various artists and makers. They continue to inspire me and hope that you will gain something from looking at their work too.
After three weeks at the Oxmarket Gallery in Chichester, the time came last Sunday to take down our work. I thoroughly enjoyed the run, meeting lots of new people, chatting to other artists, and of course handing over five pieces of my work to their new homes. Nicola Hancock did a great job of curating the exhibition, displaying her own work along with four other artists who each came from different walks of life, offering up different methodologies and outcomes, but whose work all reflected on how creativity offered release to those suffering mental anguish in some form – here the title “Creative Redemption.” Several visitors told me how good it was to see some contemporary work displayed in this gallery in a new and exciting way.
I sold two collages and three pieces of sculpture …
“Porcelain in orbit”
… and, just as importantly, received lots of positive feedback and encouragement from visitors. Several said that they were off to the beach to see what they could find and I would love to hear from them – as long as they took a bag to pick up the rubbish at the same time, that is all fine with me! Others related to the theme of the exhibition and chatted about the restorative power of stitch or other forms of creativity.
So, I am now thinking about my next project. I will certainly exhibit at this venue again and am thinking in terms of combining my found objects with recycled everyday items to create a new body of work.
Most days I walk along the beach – I call it “Beachcombing” but it is just noticing what is around me and picking up any items that “speak” to me (as well as litter and marine debris). I don’t necessarily know how I will use the pieces that I collect but there will be something about the colour, shape and most often, texture, that draws my attention. The object might be metal, wood, plastic, cloth, rubber or any manner of material but there is usually a common thread. This is that the item will have started out as useful – mass produced, neat and tidy. By the time I find out, when the sea has done it’s work, the once pristine, utilitarian thing has become a unique piece – worn and tattered and no longer of any use to anyone – except me and others who appreciate this kind of thing. Here are some items from this morning’s walk from Climping to Littlehampton.
Back home, my finds are all “filed” according to material but only after I have photographed them and added them to the appropriate folder on the computer. Thus I have two ways of looking for items that I think will work together although I am pretty good at remembering what I have.