Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ice is Nice

Ice is Nice, originally uploaded by escher....

I think we should all have a vote. I propose that it would be much nicer if we skipped the dark, windy and rainy bit of autumn and winter and skipped right through to the ice and snow and blue skies. I am sure that if enough of us agree that I can write a letter to my representative in the government, or perhaps Father Christmas and the tooth fairy and we can have that all sorted lickety-split. (There's an ambition fulfilled - using that word in something I've written - I expect it won't happen again - it's a one use only word).

Colourful leaves and the calm days of autumn are all very well but they seldom coincide with days off. I had two this week and one was leaden and grey and on the other it chucked it down, and yet today was everything you want in the season of colour. But there is hope? No, not really. Tomorrow will bring more rain and the weekend doesn't look to great either.

So my land art radar is affixed to the delights of winter and how only low winter sunshine can make ice glow and sing. I shall pretend that it isn't dark and gloomy, wet, grey and rainy most of the time through the months that abut the beginning and end of the year and instead wait to hear back from the tooth fairy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fox Hunting - Outlawed in the UK?

I went for a walk today in Kentmere in the Cumbrian Lake District. A remote area (for England anyway) with a small village surrounded by rugged hills and topped by a large reservoir. On an overcast Tuesday I didn't expect to see many other people, what with there being less than ten parking spaces to be had. But for some reason there were lots of people about.

Soon we realised that there was something more significant going on. There were many farmers and onlookers dotted across the hillsides, most with binoculars, some with radios and there were fox hounds bounding through the bracken and heather.

As we approached the head of the valley, the huntsman's horn was trumpeting loudly and the booming barks of the hounds resounded around the crags.

A year or two ago Fox hunting with dogs was banned in the UK after a long and protracted battle that became a pseudo class battle of the socialist townies versus the landed gentry. Political lies abounded and anyone who disagreed with the hunting was branded an ignorant city dweller who knows nothing of country ways and should stay out of the professional management of our arable land. On the other side the pro hunt lobby were described as toffee-nosed toffs who run rough shod across our wild place huntin', shootin' and fishin' and do not want anyone telling them what they can and can't do with their land.

Like most political oppositions there is room for shades of grey amongst the black and white posturing, although there is some truth in both positions. Many who do object are townies. Many who take part are land owning toffs. But there are also many country dwellers who object, and many ordinary country folk who earn a livelihood from hunting.

Despite Fox hunting being illegal it carries on regardless. It seems if enough people disagree with a law (that was passed democratically) then you can ignore it and you will not be punished for it. Oh no, hang on, that isn't normally true, it is just with Fox hunting! It is no secret that the police are turning a complete blind eye to this continuing.

Ex Prime Minister Tony Blair recently stated that he regrets banning it and said he didn't know enough about it and is happy with the 'status quo' now that whoever objects to the ban can carry on if they want to. A strange interpretation of a law.

Anyway, I was brought up in the country and have seen what goes on a fox hunt several times. How anyone involved can suggest that it is the most efficient way to deal with foxes is telling a major lie and yet it is trotted out as a reason every time.

First of all they go to the Fox den and block all the entrances and flush it out with Terriers. I have seen the fox shot at this point, it is quite possible to end the poor animal's life right there without any of what follows.

Once the Fox is out it is then chased for several hours with dogs and depending on the place with people on horses. Eventually once it is exhausted and terrified it is either shot and thrown to the dogs or the dogs just simply tear it to shreds.

No don't get me wrong. I eat meat. I realise that everything isn't fluffy bunnies in the world of farming and the animals are grown for me to eat and they go to slaughter every day of the week and many of them know what's coming and suffer because of it.

I witnessed again today the Fox surrounded by 30 Hounds after being chased for several hours, hideously outnumbered and utterly doomed.

Is it necessary to commit cruelty in this way for a extended period of time in order to control fox populations? Is it right that all the people surrounding the hillsides were witnessing this for their entertainment?

The country I live is in no way perfect. But I believe that we try and hold principles that enjoying cruelty to others - animals or people - is wrong and we do everything to make sure that this behaviour is outlawed and punished. And yet Fox hunting remains an anomaly.

Is tradition or protecting jobs a good enough reason? Is the fact that rural communities have been doing this for many generations reason enough to allow them to carry on?

If so shouldn't we allow cock fighting, badger baiting, bear baiting and dog fighting? Aren't they the same?

Whatever your opinion on this, for me it comes down to this. When I saw the fox finally closed in on and killed by the hounds I felt sick to my stomach. I asked myself why such drawn out cruelty was necessary to despatch what a farmer may consider vermin. And I wondered what is in the heart and soul of people who stood and watched and enjoyed the lingering death of that animal.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Maple Leaf Lantern

Maple Leaf Lantern, originally uploaded by escher....

Do you have those moments when everything seems to come together at once?

After I got home from photographing this I received an email confirming that my client was delighted with the sculpture he had commissioned. I had been waiting nearly two weeks for news and was running out of finger nails to chew! His PA had been ill which explained the delay but we have had torrential rain for nearly all that time and I was dreading that the elements had destroyed my efforts.

I'd had the idea to try and make a lantern a year ago. I tried but it didn't come together. I parked the idea at the back of my mind only for it to reappear now that I have started messing around with weaving.

At the weekend the weather was foul so I collected some Dogwood and Willow and sat indoors with the rain splattering against the window and started to construct a tear drop shaped frame. I liked the bright yellow of the willow against the rich green of the dogwood. I tried to cover it with leaves but that didn't work so I tried paper birch bark instead and I failed at that too. It was probably just as well as it would have been highly flammable!

Finally I decided to leave it open as with a candle inside it casts a nice shadow on the ceiling. Next I had to decide what would form the shade for the lantern. Well there was nothing else for it but something with strong colour.

I found a nice maple leaf, rich red and perfectly sized to fit into the hole in the frame I had put in the front. And finally I wove a stand on the inside on which to place the candle.

Now I must confess I didn't make the candle out of things I had collected in nature. I could have knitted a wick from underarm hair and collected ear wax to make the candle but to be frank I really couldn't be bothered. This land art stuff is supposed to be fun you know! I love to learn about nature and her materials but I'll draw the line at earwax candles!

24 hours later the rain was still hammering against the window. The ground was sodden and the rivers were beginning to burst their banks. The wind was bending the trees over until their canopies touched the ground. Summer had definitely exited stage left closely followed by Elvis. The autumn gales and rain were definitely in full force.

48 hours later it finally stopped raining but the wind had not abated.

I tried to take pictures of the lantern indoors. I wove a ring through its top and hung it from the lampshade in the front room. It was impossible to keep it still and it spun round at a very slow pace. There was no way I could get a sharp picture with the long shutter time that I needed. But anyway I needed to take its picture outdoors and indoor problems were irrelevant. It would need to be soon as the materials would soon curl up and dry.

Finally in the evening I noticed that the wind had dropped. Not just got weaker but had stopped altogether. It was as still as it was possible to be. This is quite remarkble on the west coast of England. The Atlantic rarely affords us still air.

So things were finally coming together. This time I inserted a stick within the lantern so that I could stake it into the ground and it would not spin.

I took it to the trees down by the beck and set it up against the dark foliage. The ground was muddy and saturated and I squelched around as I tried to light the candle within.

There was something scrabbling around in the undergrowth before a plop into the water revealed its aquatic nature. I wonder what it was? There aren't many snakes or crocodiles round my way so I assume it was a mammal of some sort.

I set the shutter speed to 'bulb' and counted out the minutes in my head, tick-tocking my head left and right like a metronome as I mumbled the numbers until I reached two minutes. After several goes I was happy and trudged through the sludge towards home.

The air really was miraculously still. The two and three minute exposures were perfectly sharp and I had the picture I wanted. I didn't believe I would manage it as the willow frame is quite light and would easily blow in even the lightest breeze.

There may be trouble ahead, however, as now I want to puruse this idea some more. But if I have to rely on still air my opportunities may be few and far between. To be successful the first time is great but doing well first go may lead to frustration and disappointment when I try again. But really I have to do this again with several lanterns of different colours. Now how cool will that look?!

Maple Leaf Lantern, originally uploaded by escher....

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Transience - New Edition

Transience - New Edition, originally uploaded by escher....

The new version of my book: Transience is now available and I am really pleased how my proof copy looks. After the original being 12" x 12" I thought anything smaller would be a bit of a damp squib. But I am very pleased to say that even in the smaller format it still looks really nice.

I always wonder if some of this stuff comes across as insincere PR or the overly positive guff you might get from a sales person but my land art ramblings are always just my honest thoughts, sometimes funny, sometimes dark or sometimes plain old gibberish. I have no artistic traning and am an accidental land artist who just chanced upon something, one day, that I enjoy doing and it is the same with the books I have published. All I did was have a go, I had no idea how any of it would work out.

When I created the first one I can't tell you what a thrill it was to see my own photos, let alone artworks, in a real hardbound book. I never dreamt that this is something I would do or see especially after such a short time of actually creating natural sculptures.

With all I've learnt about photography, use of light, processing pictures for print, making sculptures and putting together a book over the last couple of years I am now finally happy with all the elements and there is nothing I want to improve about this one. I think it is perfect just the way it is.

I just don't want that to sound too conceited as I find it quite strange to find myself saying all this, as all this was was a hobby that just snowballed from nowhere.

Anyway the original large format Transience (now retitled 'Special Edition') was created to be my portfolio to show anyone that I needed to, and, to be honest, because I wanted one so that I could see my pictures in print! As such it contains 165 photos across 158 pages but none of my stories. It is a little more expensive than 'Land Art' or 'Wheel of Life' as it uses better quality, heavier paper. But I think that it is all the better for it and the prints have more depth and sharpness and I would hope anyone who owns one will be very happy with it and of course it would make a great Christmas gift. I know I'd be happy if Santa brought me one! ;-)

Click on the badge below for a preview or to purchase one.

Ephemeral Art in Na...
By Richard Shilling

Inside Transience, originally uploaded by escher....

Inside Transience, originally uploaded by escher....

Inside Transience, originally uploaded by escher....

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Doodle on a Rock - Concentric Maple Leaves

Concentric Maple Leaves, originally uploaded by escher....

It's a horrible, grey, rainy day today and I am having to do some work. That makes me glad that it is miserable as I feel there is nothing I am missing out on. Summer seems to have completely gone and yet the autumn colours aren't in full swing. The sculptures I've made in the last couple of weeks have made it look like the autumnal flush is full on here but that isn't true at all. The fire colored maple leaves I collected were all from half of one tree.

It's an odd one and I first noticed it last year. One half of the tree, in late august bursts into every shade of yellow, orange and red while the rest of the tree stays green and changes when all of it's neighbours do later on in September.

But much like it might appear to you that it is very colourful here, it felt like that to me too. Through collecting the most colourful leaves I could find, studying and working with them before photographing and looking at the photos, I got drawn into the colour and it filled my mind and senses.

Of course there are a few trees that are changing quickly but really they are few and far between. At least where the coloured leaves are below a height that can be reached by me. Yesterday I went searching and visited the trees I know best that produce good colours and things have some way to go yet. But the temperature is changing and a dip will certainly set them on their way.

I remarked yesterday that a year ago I thought I was getting into autumn too early. I changed my moniker to ...waiting for autumn... and by the time it was really in full swing I'd exhausted some ideas as I'd got in amongst the colours so early in the season. I think I may be doing it again this year. But when the weather can be so changeable and uninspiring you need to take your opportunities to get out there and use the colours you find.

It is another of the joys and fascinations of land art that with ephemeral materials, that appear only at certain times of the year, you cannot really plan what it is you want to make. If I wanted to make another Autumn Fire Colour Wheel then I would need enough fiery maple leaves. But there just aren't enough available again after what I harvested last week. When I created my first sculpture with cherry leaves it is something I have wanted to do again. But since then the four trees (in a group together) have not produced all those colours at once and the leaves have been more bedragled and diseased.

You have to play the cards that Mother Nature deals to you. This might seem like a pain and constraining to what you would like to achieve but it is the completely opposite of that. It is fascinating to learn more and more about how things change over the days, months and years. You'd never notice if you didn't look as closely as that and yet there is still many lifetimes of mysteries to discover.

I made this back in June when I created this and was waiting for the sun to move. Just a quick doodle on a rock (which might sound like a poodle doing its do on rock but it's not). The contrast was very strong so the rock looks like it is set in a sea of black as a camera cannot handle the dynamic range as well as the eye.

Oh and I'm now a Twit. Someone asked if I was a Twit and whether I announced what I've been up to as a Twit. Well I've always been a twit and now I'm a fully fledged Twit (as you can tell if you are still reading this) so if you wish to follow me on Twitter I am @escher303. Don't expect such things as "I've just pinned a leaf to a tree" and "I've just done another one" but I probably will mention if there is a new sculpture on Flickr or my blog and I'll have a whinge about the weather.

I'd thought I'd never bother with Twitter, and I don't do Facebook (arrggghhhh) but if it helps let anyone who is interested on what I've been up to then there it will be. But Flickr is the only social networking site for me. I don't really want to know what you've had for breakfast but I love to see what you've been creating. :-)

Concentric Maple Leaves, originally uploaded by escher....

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Autumn Fire Colour Wheel

Autumn Fire Colour Wheel, originally uploaded by escher....

My demeanour has been matching the weather. Not bright and sunny but damp and drizzly. I've had a chest infection for a couple of weeks but although I don't feel unwell anymore I am fed up with coughing my guts up.

So I didn't feel much inclined to get up early and go out, I'd been invited to Middlewood to make something at their apple fair but I didn't feel up to it and the Tour of Britain cycle race passed by very close but I couldn't muster the energy to go see that either.

Eventually I did go out and I went hunting for autumn leaves. The Horse Chestnut trees are really on the turn as are the Maples and the Beeches but many have yet to get going.

I've created an autumn circle at this time of year for the past couple but those were all made of leaves from the same tree. This time I wanted to use different leaves from different trees and to involve some old and new techniques.

This was more involved than it might look. Underneath is a woven circular base using dogwood and willow in the style of a woven, circular basket. I've learnt some weaving techniques recently and am started to use them in my art. On top of the weave is a circle of wet, black mud.

In the centre is a leaf colour wheel stitched to a circle of Ash bark. There are sixteen leaf sections, starting from the darkest: Copper Beech, Wych Elm, Beech, Ivy, Lime, Lime, Cherry, Black Poplar, Cherry, Copper Beech, Scarlet Oak, Red Maple, Red Maple, Copper Beech, and Crimson King Maple.

Surrounding the colour wheel is a circle of Black Poplar, another circle of Copper Beech and finally Red Maple leaves. The whole thing is all joined together and supported so it can be picked up as one object.

I had to tone down the saturation a little bit in these pictures as the colours look unbelievably bright and almost unnatural. It is quite incongruous to see such strong colours of nature against a drab background and the eyes and brain almost can't cope. If you saw the unaltered original you'd think that I had overdone the saturation!

Anyway I am not feeling overly humourous or energetic so I will sign off with one thing that did make me laugh out loud earlier.

You know how they say that owners start to look like their dogs? Well as I was driving down the lane, on my way home, I was greeted by a car coming the other way with three 'people' sat three abreast in the front. In the middle was a doggy that looked just like this. In the drivers seat there was a woman who had a haircut and looked just like this and in the passenger seat her husband sat staring forward and his hair was just like this.

It was very funny. Three equally comical and matching expressions coming towards me. It was all I could do to make sure I didn't crash into the hedge.

Autumn Fire Colour Wheel, originally uploaded by escher....

Autumn Fire Colour Wheel, originally uploaded by escher....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sessile Oak Tendril Spiral Decay

My mud sculptures, as soon as they are finished, develop a life of their own that reflects the elements and weather conditions that each one encounters. Each one that I have made as behaved differently and decayed at different rates. The first one I made was the Oak Leaf Colour Square. It was out in the open with no tree cover and it was very windy and rained soon after. It was gone pretty quickly.

Then I made the Leaf Lightning Sculpture and this lasted considerably longer. There was tree cover and the weather conditions were fairly stable, not too windy, wet or hot and the mud coped better.

The Rowan Berry Swoosh lasted quite a long time and I have nine shots of its slow decay over subsequent weeks. But the weather pattern we had recently was perfect to destroy a mud sculpture quickly.

First it was very hot and this dried out the mud, making it crack and lose adhesion to the stone. Then it was very windy and the leaves were torn off the surface and finally it rained heavily and the dried up, loosely attached mud was easily washed away.

I don't find this at all disappointing though. I find the fact that they develop a life that reflects the elements fascinating and how a photo series can depict not only the compostion and the materials but also how those materials change and decay and how quickly they do because of what they encounter. My mud sculptures give me a little window into the life of a leaf stuck to mud.

Just a quick aside. I've been creating a new smaller version of my book Transience, exactly the same just smaller and cheaper to purchase. As I was loading up the completed version I was sitting watching the load up screen and could see the cover in front of me. The title's spelling had changed to Transcience! Where had the extra 'C' come from? How was this possible since I had already created all the pages for the original book and all I was doing was resizing them? I hadn't typed a single letter anywhere! Anyway I just caught it in time and cancelled it. I would have been very annoyed if I had published it with the title incorrectly spelled!

This Spiral was created on 8/8, second picture taken on 3/9 and the third on 7/9.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Turning Season Sun Wheel

Turning Season Sun Wheel, originally uploaded by escher....

Now I said I may post less land art, as I learn some new skills and experiment. But now is an auspicious time as the season turn once again towards the dark time. I could have kept this to myself but what would be the point if I could not share this experience with you as there must be many of us who are feeling the same.

A sun wheel for the turning of the seasons. Autumn is on its way and I can feel it deep inside.

The wheel keeps on turning. On and on forever.

Brown for winter
Green for spring
Yellow for summer
Red for autumn

I find autumn fades into winter and spring fades into summer with no noticeable cusp between the two. But during the other changes in seasons I feel it in my core. The trees know it, the plants know it, the creatures know it. I know it in my bones.

I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes (sound of stylus being torn off record) - no scrub that! I can't stand that song!

But seriously, it was a few days ago and I did feel it all the way through me. Something with the light, something in the air. Not seeing the date click over to September 1st or the first flush of colour in the trees but a feeling deep within. I feel it too at the first sign of spring.

I wonder how many people around the Northern hemisphere feel it too. Do you?

Another question of been pondering today is why do sheep take a wee just before they run away when you approach them? There's lots of them round here and they frequent the footpaths and run off as you approach if they are grazing there. But seriously 9 times out of 10 they take a pee first, go figure!

This land art stuff is fascinating isn't it? Pondering the seasons, urinating sheep, it's pretty deep stuff. I'd expect you are always impressed by the high brow subjects I like to trot out. Always something to learn over at chez Escher.

This sculpture was plagued by flies. Although the hover fly on this sculpture was cool I don't think flies are very decorative so I kept having to shoo them away. I should take it as a compliment I guess and it has happened so many times that insects and arachnids have interacted with whatever I've made that maybe I should make a theme of it and them.

I'd expect there is some symbolism about a square within a circle but I'm darned if I know what that it is. The thought process that went into this one drew me back to what I had made before.

I daydreamed the idea to depict the seasons with colours, firstly in a row but then I thought that it is a cycle so a circle would be much more apt. I selected the colours to reference the seasons as I see and experience them and brown is more common than white snow where I live. But after I had finished it I realised that these are the same colours I used before but I did so without realising any symbolism. Perhaps it is coincidence or maybe I tapped into my unconscious. I don't know but I always err towards the former.

So perhaps in the future I will look back at this sculpture when I again incorporate a square inside a circle and then realise what that might mean, just as I have now when I look back at my sun wheels. But for now that concept alludes me, all except for the fact that I think it looks cool!

Turning Season Sun Wheel, originally uploaded by escher....

Turning Season Sun Wheel, originally uploaded by escher....