I thought some of you might be interested in the journey between my finding objects and a finished piece of work. Sometimes I pick up an item immediately knowing how I can use it, but, more often than not, the idea develops over time.
On each of my last two walks at Church Norton, I found a small plastic square inscribed “P.W.C” – 6 days apart and on different ends of the beach. I believe P.W.C stands for Portsmouth Water Company.
I had no definite idea when I found the first, but when I found the second, I immediately knew how I was going to use these rigid plastic squares. The uniform shape and size and the rigidity brought to mind covers for a small book! Next, I started to think about what form the book would take, how I would hold the pages in place and how I would secure the finished article – it seemed an obvious choice to try and use the drilled holes.
After some experimentation, I decided that rather than have conventional flat pages, I would consider some sort of Origami form. Using the squares as inspiration, I created the inside pages and found a format that I liked and that suited the “covers”. Here is the outcome:
P.W.C. Book cover
P.W.C. Book closed
P.W.C. book ajar
P.W.C. book open 1
P.W.C. book open 2
P.W.C. book open 3
P.W.C. book open 4
I have a few mobile phone parts with which I may be able to construct something similar so I’m off now to have a play!
I am always looking for new ways of presenting the found. Some of the items that I collect are large, some are heavy and some are very small. I rarely know what I will do with an item when I pick it up, I just know that it has “something”. I am fascinated with the process by which an item enters the sea and is later washed up, altered. Hence, the things that I collect are the man-made rather than the natural and organic. They are also not conventionally pretty – no sea glass or pebbles for me! But what to do with them …. that of course is the big question.
An idea that I have had for some while, is to make pieces of art in the form of jewellery. Given the nature of the found objects that I have, they will not necessarily be worn, although they could be, but rather I liked the idea of forming the objects into the shape of necklaces or brooches or bangles. There are many talented silversmiths working with found materials be they plastic, wood, metal, or stone and when I saw a course at West Dean College, I thought I would try and learn the basics of making with eco-silver and brass.
Since my last encounter with a blow-torch (think creme brûlée) resulted in a visit to A & E, I viewed the two torches on display with a little trepidation but, I am pleased to report, no injuries ensued! Attaching tiny pieces of solder to bent wire and using the flame in a controlled way to join the two took a little practice, but I managed to produce a series of chain links to be used in conjunction with the found.
“Medmerry” close up
3M necklace close up
I look forward to receiving comments on these pieces from visitors to Chichester Art Trail which runs 10.30 – 5.00 on May 2,3,8,9 and 10. Anyone local who cannot make these dates, is welcome to get in touch direct with any queries.
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.