Sunday, April 25, 2010

Laurel Reflections

Laurel Reflections, originally uploaded by escher....

I wasn't expecting it to have rained overnight but as it hadn't done for quite a while I knew the mixture of warmth, humid air and rain would send my garden into overdrive and mother nature too.

Went thorn hunting in the park again and already it was full up with dog walkers, push chairs and expectant wedding guests at the Ashton memorial.

Whilst heading towards the giant chamelia we found a couple more laurel bushes so I took a twig in case I decided to repeat the theme of yesterday, in anticipation of that company I mentioned yesterday wanting some images.

While we were there two boys came over to us, they were probably 8 or so, and said "there's a dead bird over there."

They looked worried.

"Is it a blackbird?" I said.

"It's black and white" they replied.

I wandered over to have a look at it was a juvenile magpie and it had probably been there a while. I told them that and then said that a fox will probably scavenge it and they shouldn't worry.

"A fox in here?" one of the exclaimed.

"There's only one thing for it" he shouted "run!"

And off they went making a very loud aeroplane noises.

I felt as excitable as they did as the maples had started to reveal new leaves and soon the pallete available to me would be huge.

We went back home and then onto the University campus as I wanted a good stretch of water to experiment with reflections.

Down by the lake a lot of work had been done: the lake had been extended, a station for barbecues replete with hobs, taps and bins has been set up, it looked an effort to reduce the burnt patches on the grass, the scattered beer cans, disposable barbecues and general waste. This intention had only been partially successful and the rubbish was now festooned around the barbecue station. overflowing out of the bins, in the lake and all around that area. The amount of rubbish in and around the lake was a real shocker and I tempted to go down there and clean it up myself but I am sure 20,000 students should be able to organise something! Or perhaps not.

Two groups of ducklings were present, one lot older and twice the size of the other. The youngest group numbered fifteen ducklings and they were the cutest of the cute. Like little motorboats zooming over the water and everytime they went on a excursion the big daddy goose ensured they were protected which was quite interesting to see. Obviously he was not their father but he guarded them wherever they went.

Later a white duck was desperately trying to get its end away with the mallard mother of the older ducklings. He was extremely rampant in his advances and the poor female was extremely distressed. Soon 10 or so mallard males joined in and tried to attack the white male, whilst the ducklings scattered. I could see why the big daddy goose wanted to protect them, they are some unruly characters amongst the coots, chickens, geese and ducks that live on that pond.

Three young lads were checking out the bird life and the eldest threw stones at the ducklings and got a ticking off from me. So he then started throwing them at the three territorial geese that had chased and hissed at me when I arrived (to everyone's amusement), so I thought twice before ticking him off again but of course I did anyway!

They came over to me and asked what I was doing, "making a sculpture" I said.

"What's a sculpture?"

"It is art made out of something like wood or stone or plasticine"

This piece of information was met with more aeroplane noises and running away. I have that effect on most people.

After we had been there a while several more barbecues had been lit, not one of them at the barbecue station and all around the field smoke billowed and individual piles of rubbish grew. But of course as we all know fairies/goblins/imaginary friends etc pick up litter so it is fine to chuck whatever you have wherever you want.

No-one except the aeroplane boys came to see what we were doing, the only visitors were an endless supply of pond scum, lily pads, weed and catkins all of which I didn't want in my shot. Each time I waded back into the water I sunk a little lower into the mud and the water nearly reached the top of my wellies.

But the more I do this, make sculptures and photograph them somewhere especially in public, the more I don't care what people think. That oft quoted Andy Goldsworthy line (that he said when handling ice in sub zero temps) "good art keeps you warm" isn't apt on a warm spring day. I prefer "my art means I don't care whether you think I am a weirdo."

This attitude comes in very handy standing in ponds, retrieving thorns from the middle of bushes and going everywhere with a plastic bag of leaves.

What won't be evident to you in these pictures is what I experienced with reflections. Through photography you pick out a moment in time, captured in an image. That snapshot can be a millisecond or several minutes. The ripples and reflections of the water left me mesmerised, each moment captured within my camera. I've decided to purchase a pair of waders and I think I will spend a lot more time standing in water, fighting off geese and being mesmerised by the water's surface all around me. Now is that weird?!

It wasn't over yet, there was more thing thign of weirdness to encounter. 'The tale of the bumless chicken.'

Whether he had had an accident or was born like I don't know but despite my amusement he wasn't so amused at my attempts to get a blurry shot of his missing bottom! It isn't nice to mock (or photograph) the afflicted! So I left him alone and went home.

Laurel Reflections

Laurel Reflections, originally uploaded by escher....

I took quite a few pictures (several hundred!) and I don't know which I like best.

The top one is backlit so the leaves glow and the sun had gone in when I took the bottom one. I'm erring towards not backlit with this set.

Ducklings, originally uploaded by escher....

Flapping Little Wings, originally uploaded by escher....

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Red Green Laurel

Red Green Laurel, originally uploaded by escher....

I don't feel in the mood to write a story right now. But then my partner had it right "it's all part of the cycle of life."

If I had a sense of humour today then I'd probably think that a better title for this would be "Laureal - because you're worth it" but I don't so I won't! 8-)

We were talking about fate the other day and I said that I don't believe in it but I pretend to myself that I do. I don't think things are preordained in our universe but I find my life is full of happy coincidences and I choose to have faith that they happen for a reason. My rational side tells me that these coincidences are a mathmatical certainty that will happen to at least someone. But I find that believing that things are "meant to be" is just another way of engendering the feeling that every cloud has a silver lining, making my life more fulfilling and leaving me with the sense that I'm lucky in life. If you are too busy in your existence to pick up on the connections between events, or are always expecting to be disappointed or let down then many of these happy coincidences will pass you by and you will believe that you are unlucky in life. The opportunity to be lucky is right there in front of you should you wish to take it.

Making land art gives me the space to see these connections and to pick up on the happy concidences, without the time to free my mind I might miss out on them too.

We went to the framers this morning to get some Giclee prints framed up (they look amazing by the way! ;-)). We were chatting about the two orphaned lambs they had, little runts they are (in the literal sense but cute as little lambs inevitably are) and they didn't think they would survive. But a bit bigger at three weeks old with funny little characters and charming to boot, they trotted over to greet us, bleating and thinking we might have a bottle or two for them.

I told him (the framer not the lamb) that I may have some more prints to frame up soon as a company may want some of my pictures for their boardroom. Their company logo incorporates laurel leaves and I said I might make something with them but I didn't know where there were any.

"I'm no gardener" he said, "but I think that those bushes out there are laurel" And surely they were. Another happy coincidence. "take whatever you need" he said. And so I did.

I trotted down to the beck and the sunshine had brought everyone out. The chunky lambs in the field opposite were butting each other and playing harem scarem through the hedge and it was most amusing to watch.

A Japanese student listening to her Ipod came past, she obviously didn't care too much about her hearing as I could still here the tinny percussion when she was 50 yards away sat in a tree. Numerous other dog walkers, parents and toddlers came past including one toddler who needed to use their potty right there and then on the path. When you gotta go you gotta go! But then this is all quite usual on a warm Saturday in April in a fairly well frequented place.

I set up the framed laurel branch just above the water and set about getting the pictures I wanted, splashing about in my wellies as I did so. The wind tore apart my efforts several times but eventually the breeze relented, the sun appeared from behind the wispy, hazy clouds and I was done.

Just next to where I was, across the stream and in the field, a chunky lamb lay down wheezing. All the other sheep had gone up to the top of the field and he was left all alone. I didn't think he looked too well but hoped it was my hyper sensitive nature overblowing what was just a cough.

My spirits dampened, I got home and plugged my camera into the computer but I just had to go back and see what was up with the stricken lamb.

A young mum stood looking while her daughter choked back tears. Sadly the lamb had died, I hope it hadn't suffered too long. Now I do eat meat and I try not to be a hypocrite, I do realise why there are lambs in the fields at all. But being of a sensitive nature, suffering and death and can be all too much if witnessed.

Sensitivity is both a blessing and a curse. You feel the reality of life too starkly sometimes and it fosters a tendency to withdraw in an attempt to lessen the impact of the harsh realities we all encounter. But with it comes opportunities to feel lucky in life and to pick up on every happy coincidence that passes by.

As my partner so eloquently put it: "it is all part of the cycle of life."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Holly Star

Holly Star, originally uploaded by escher....

I'm always saying land art is about the doing and not the viewing of the end result. And you know what I'm dead right!

If you were to pare down land art into only what you need to do then you wouldn't actually make anything at all. The only important part is the wandering, exploring and appreciation of nature. And so my partner and I (her with a bad back and me with a crick in my neck) set off to the park for a slow stroll.

Sunshine and blue skies, the birds a-chirping, and new leaves reaching for the sun. What bliss, despite not being able to look left or upwards and my partner only managing to walk gingerly. But the sweet smell of blossom in your nostrils, the buzz of bees in your ears and the wonder of new growth all around, is all and everything that you could possibly need.

We scooped up dozens and dozens of flame coloured fallen leaves, each one a delight to the senses and many of them met with an exclaim of "wow, would you look at this one!" (I know, but we aren't a danger to the general public, honest). Land art means seeing the world through children's eyes, whether you've lost and regained or always had that ability there is joy to be found in just appreciating the beauty that is all around us. And along with it giving up the necessity to care that you may be making a fool of yourself in other people's eyes and to let loose, be care-free and damn well pick up leaves off the ground while on your hand and knees and in a popular municipal park. Security!

I pondered a change of career and would offer leaf gathering workshops for those looking for tranquility. I would name my organisation 'Bag-o-Leaves' as that it all one needs to reach enlightenment.

"Right crew, welcome to the 'Bag-o-Leaves' workshop. I trust you've all brought a bag? Then we shall begin! The instructions are quite simple - just fill yer bag with leaves!"

I noticed these holly leaves, some of them without spikes, and how they have a white edge lit up by the sun. I took them down to the beck and thought after last weeks shenaningans that this week quick would be ok. A few stalks of grass, a few thorns and hey presto I was done.

I've had a Giclee print done of Traffic Lights for River Traffic, had it framed and it is now on the wall. I think it looks great and gawping at it has reminded me of the day when I made that sculpture and how a passer-by regaled me with his story of his nephew's motorbike. Believe me his anecdote was a cracker and if you haven't heard it you should go and read my retelling ;-) you might learn a thing or two about mopeds.

Wellies on and into the stream I set up the struts so the leaves would catch the sun but first I would need to pull out the half-a-motorbike hidden under the silt. First a headlamp, then an exhaust pipe, assorted bits of plastic, some wire, and some drinks cans. Perhaps the rider had downed a four pack of lager and had careered into the stream right here? I hoped I wasn't going to find bones!

But what did I tell you about appreciating nature? Well unfortunately the human touch seems to be everywhere not all of it artistic! Ho hum. But then again these pieces of moped may have belonged to my passers-by nephew recounted in the Traffic LIghts for River Traffic story, which would make my return to that spot quite apt. Just like my joining of autumn and spring sculptures here I have succeeded in joining two tales of neglected motorbikes. My word, my art is so deep and meaningful, wherever do I get these wonderful concepts from?!

After I finished with this one and now sporting my 'I graduated from the Bag-o-Leaves Academy' badge I took my 'Bag-o-Leaves (registered TM, Copyright Bag-o-Leaves Academy) and decided to make a Dragon for the next kids book and for more how to's on . We're working on the next LandArtforKids book, workshop materials and workshops for kids so I've been making kids sculptures as well as my own, although to the untrained eye (that'll be mine) thre is very little difference.

It gives me an excuse, as if I needed one, to act even more like a kid. Perhaps you should too?!

This was made for the Land Art Connections Project April 2010 - Theme Shadows on 17th April 2010 at Burrow Beck, Lancaster, UK.

Holly Star, originally uploaded by escher....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Come to a Dead Stop

Come to a Dead Stop, originally uploaded by escher....

I haven't had a sculpture turn into a complete nightmare for ages, and this was one big time!

I'll give you the short version as we are home late and I want to relax now!

I had this originally built and set up at about midday but the sun was perpendicular to the circle and the light was hitting the ground behind so I decided to move it to somewhere where the light was better.

Bear in mind that I had already constructed the circle so all that I had to do was locate a spot where there were two parallel trees in the right direction for the sun, find two straightish sticks to go across, pin the circle between them and assemble the bracken stalks, before photographing the end result.

Put it this way, those so called 'easy' tasks took another 6 1/2 hours! The sun had moved right round by that point so the effect I was after was lost anyway. It fell apart countless times. The sticks in the tree fell down countless times and the bracken stalks fell out yet more countless times. I kept losing my thorns amongst the leaf litter and the one and only source for them was right at the other end of the wood. I ended up running everywhere every time I needed new materials!

I am sure anyone who is sane would have given up, but I wasn't going to let it beat me. It was nearly finished so many times that I just had to persevere.

I was originally going to call this "Land of the Rising Sun" (when I had it ready at midday) but that would be quite an ironic title, seeing as the sun was setting all the while. I then thought of "Stop Deer!" but after all the trials and tribulations "Come to a Dead Stop" seemed most apt.

Nighty, night!

Come to a Dead Stop, originally uploaded by escher....

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Seedling Sapling Rambling

Seedling Sapling Rambling, originally uploaded by escher....

For those of you who are from the MTV/Look at my shiny IPOD/IPhone/can't spell/can text generation who like instant results and have the attention span of a gnat then:-

This sculpture is made from mud and birch bark and is stuck on a rock. It's of a seedling and is supposed to be marking the arrival of spring, geddit!
And news just in: I was interviewed on the Etsy Blog yesterday.

For everyone else, especially those in the psychiatric profession or anyone with ALOT of spare time, you may carry on and read my insane ramblings below:-

I began the day with a stroll around the park to see what is growing (well I actually it began with peanut butter on toast and taking the recycling boxes down to the sidewalk - hello my stateside friends ;-) - but this is supposed to be about land art after all).

It was almost a year to the day that I made this dandelion sculpture. I noticed the first dandelion flower this last Wednesday and the very next day there were already hundreds in flower. So excited I am about spring that I am desperate to mark its coming (not in a canine way) but although the changes are already immense they are only just beginning. There is some blossom, the beginnings of deciduous leaves, catkins galore, hawthorn in flower, grass beginning to grow, the sap risen in saplings, ground covering plants starting to spread, bees and butterflies and good moods and smiles all round. To wake up to a balmy Saturday, with the weather set fair for the entirety of the weekend, already t-shirt temperatures, no wind and plenty of free time means the spring lover in us all is embued with excitement and expectation.

But despite all these really noticeable changes many of the materials I crave and not with us yet and there is so much more to come. My walk around the park revealed very little in the way of new deciduous leaves from native trees, nearly everything is from hardy shrubs that have been ever-present all winter.

But still the stroll was delightful and the three dogs chasing each other in circles, bums down performing that comedy gallop when they are having rollicking good fun, summed up my mood perfectly. A picked leaf held against shadow whilst the sun pierced it and made it shine, took my breath away just as it does every time I have done that. Something that I will never tire of. And yet despite the fresh air, warmth and promise of spring bringing contentment I hand't found anything that inspired me to mark the coming of spring. Instead I would use the time to explore techniques and materials for something I am proposing to create in someones garden, I would use birch bark and mud. So I set off to return to where I made the Leaf Lightning sculpture, which had now almost disappeared completely and I would create something new to take its place. The designs I'd been mulling over were a deciduous leaf, or new fern tendrils curling out into life. I would follow this theme to mark the coming of spring.

Are you familiar with how rambling thoughts can be? If you've ever read any of my stories, I am sure you are as I quite often write mine down! Are yours the same?

By way of an experiment I will write what follows as though someone was listening in my thoughts. Now this might be enlightening, worrying or very boring or perhaps a combination of more than one. We'll see... If I get a visit from those nice men in the white van with the 'special' jacket then I'll know your reaction...


"Wow look at all these red leaves, cool! Uh-oh there's a car coming! I bet they think I'm up to no good. JUst keep your head down, if I want to pick up leaves I shall! I'm not a burglar!"

"Yes I do some fell running too, it's the only way I can be fit enough to carry all this stuff! 'All this stuff' you are hardly carrying anything! Its nothing like the huge pile of stuff I had to carry on that climbing trip to Peru, now that was heavy! I wonder if I'll ever do a mountaineering expedition again? Probably not I am such a wuss! Oh look there are some people over there climbing on boulders, never seen anyone do that here before, funny coincidence seeing as I'm day dreaming about climbing!"

"Ah another coincidence, 'The Curlew' was the first pub I used to drink in when I was fifteen!"

"I wonder if I will make anything today or just sit on a rock? I don't really want to today, but then I always think that, I really can't be bothered..."

"Hmm what shall I do? None of these boulders seem suitable. Shall I just go home? Where I made Leaf Lightning is not the right shape, I'll have to find somewhere else."

"Cool, would you look at that lovely, filthy dark wet mud, perfection!"

"The sun is a bit strong I reckon I'll burn, best put my jacket on and pull up the hood, it's the only protection I've got. I wonder what we'll have for tea tonight? I wonder what the time is? Shall I eat my sandwiches now? Oh look a bumble bee has landed on my jacket. I wonder if it likes the blue colour? I wonder how the bee sees it? I wonder if the colour is the same as a particular flower? Wow that emerald green butterfly is beautiful and its crawling in my camera bag. I wonder what it likes in there?"

"So come on what are you going to make? It'll be rubbish anyway, why bother? It's silly to judge the success of a sculpture by how many comments you get on Flickr, you do this because you enjoy it. But I do like to get feedback. Well you should get on with it anyway, so what if it is rubbish, don't post it on Flickr then! I'm sure I've run out of ideas anyway, I had all the best ones last year, now I'm just repeating myself. What if my new ideas are rubbish?"

"Oh look another bee! What is it about this blue?"

"Yep, definitely going to look rubbish. Maybe just try this as an experiment and then do something better somewhere else?"

"Ah a ladybird!"

"Hmm, quite liking it now, but I should've done it higher up, that crack is spoiling it, the balance is wrong, the circles of bark do add something but this still going to be a bit substandard."

"Yes that's looking better, but how many leaves shall I add? Hmm I don't like even numbers. But why don't you like even numbers, what does it matter? I don't know, odd numbers just seem to work! How many then 5, 7, 9? I don't know, stop asking me stupid questions!"

This is the way it goes with just about everything I make. Self doubt is in control until three-quarters of the way through where I suddenly find myself liking what I see despite my psyche wishing the contrary.

I don't know why this is or indeed how the creative process evntually leads me from one to the other and whether the self doubt actaully means that I try harder to create something pleasing. This seems odd as the self doubting voice is encouraging my to give up the whole time, not to try harder.

It seems the voices in my head, the internal dialogue never stops (perhaps
that is how it is for everyone except for hardcore meditators) and what it is saying influences strongly how I feel and what I am able to do.

This must be a big reason why I am now drawn to create as despite my internal dialogues strongest intentions to hold me back and make me give up at whatever I am doing, the sculptures I create provide me with clear direction that it is worthwhile to persist.

"Wow, look at that Peregrine falcon! It's going for that bird, poor thing! It's missed what a relief! But then what will the Falcon eat?"

"Bugger what's going on here?! Ah they're next door, phew!"

Please tune in next week for more unadulterated ramblings.

Seedling Sapling Rambling, originally uploaded by escher....

Seedling Sapling Rambling, originally uploaded by escher....

Interviewed on the Etsy Blog

Colour Leaf Sun Star, originally uploaded by escher....

I was interviewed on the Etsy blog yesterday. Good to see land art in the spotlight"! (Oh and me too ;-)) It is here if you want to take look.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Totem for Spring

Totem for Spring, originally uploaded by escher....

We went back to Middlewood in Roeburndale today (not Bottom Wood or Top Wood
but the one in the middle, obviously) for the first time since mid autumn. The wood
drops deeply into a gorge cut by the river and with the trees still without leaf, we could see right through the dense woodland to the other side.

We visited for the first time late last summer and so we hadn't seen the trees without leaves and the atmosphere was very different. But like a coiled spring the new season is champing at the bit to get growing, and the first signs of it were thinly carpeting the forest floor.

New buds adorned the branches and small green shoots of forest floor plants were starting to peep through the leaf litter. As we approached the river we could see the rich green of wild garlic covering the opposite bank.

Wild garlic is one of the first things to grow in spring and whilst the canopy is skeletal they take full advantage, quickly covering every space and filling the air with its distinctive, pungent aroma.

For a few years I have wanted to make something with fresh and new garlic leaves but hadn't gotten around to it. But today should be the day. I crossed the river, carefully as it was slippery and also because falling in is embarrassing when someone is watching, to collect garlic leaves as they were very few on this side.

I made a ball of mud and planned to cover it with the leaves. They have a gentle curve and I thought they lent themselves well to make a sphere. But in order to take advantage of the curved shape the ball would need to be quite large, unfortunately, though, once a mud ball gets over a certain size it begins to sag and become misshapen. I would need to think of something else. I tried sticking brown leaves to the ball but that just seemed to be doing something for the sake of it.

The whole plan of what I wanted to depict was the beginning of spring and how the very first shoots of green were just coming and I wanted to mark the day, and the beginning of the season with a sculpture that connected with these new signs of life.

My train of thought had left the station and on its way it showed me some aspects of the cycle of life. Just under the leaf litter the earth is black where the leaves had broken down into a rich soil. It was this that those new plants were feasting on as they strained upwards towards the sun. The fallen leaves of past autumns had decayed to become the food for new life. So the three materials I had looked at already: fresh, green wild garlic leaves; brown, dessicated beech leaves and the dark, dank mud of decayed leaves seemed to me to be all connected. All stages in the cycle of life as one thing thrives and dies and becomes sustenance for the next.

So I thought I would make something that brought these three things together to mark the start of spring.

I went looking for a flat rock and found the stone that I made the Wych Elm Leaf Colour sculpture on, and despite it being a really good slab of rock it would be apt in more ways too.

That autumn sculpture was all about the end of the deciduous cycle and how the leaves fade and decay and return back to the earth. I made it the last time I was at Middlewood and so now I would show the energy coming from those decayed leaves and the start of spring. The two sculptures, even though they are many months apart are intimately connected, both physically and in concept. Just like autumn and spring in reality are.

I erected the slab upright, with a little bit of a struggle (It's about four foot high) and set about smearing it with mud from the woodland floor. I chose deeper earth that isn't as dark and then placed the fresh garlic leaves at the top, last autumn's beech leaves in the middle and finally a black, bracken root at the bottom. I sealed them all in with the darkest earth I could find, which was in a very thin layer between the decaying leaves and the lighter soil beneath. The richest, darkest soli, that which the garlic was feeding upon.

I decided to resuse my Leaf Lightning design as it occurred to me that it alluded to the fading autumn leaves returning to the earth (although I hadn't considered that symbolism at the time I made it) and now the flow of energy in this symbol will be in reverse as the root draws energy from the dark earth to create new life, seeking sustanence from the sun.

Just as each season leads to the next, the end of one cycle signals the beginning of another. Life and death are intimately connected.

My two last trips to Middlewood and the sculptures I made are intricately intertwined just as we and all life are intertwined with all the processes of mother nature.

I didn't go out with these concepts in my head, nor with any plan of depicting them. I feel sometimes that if you have to explain the concept then maybe you are missing the point. But, today, these are the things that I discovered and thought about as I worked. And I am grateful that I am given the opportunities to uncover these wonders.

I am always saying that land art is about the doing. By making sculptures the door is left ajar so that one may see more clearly into the wonder of nature, her cycles and processes. You are presented with an opporunity to discover how we fit and sit within those cycles and processes, how they change us and make us what we are.

Through this I am able to foster a closer relationship with Mother nature and with myself.

Totem for Spring, originally uploaded by escher....