Studio updates and articles


Red listed birds in the UK – Art and a Book

9 August 2021

Did you know that 67 birds in the UK are currently on the Red List for Conservation Concern? That’s 1 in 4 birds and includes birds that were widespread and abundant such as house sparrows, starlings and cuckoos that are now endangered.

I can’t remember when exactly I found this fact out but it is something I keep coming back to in my art practice. I guess I just can’t believe it. It seems to be down to many factors but sadly and predictably they are all to do with mankind and how we treat the environment.

When I first saw the list of birds I was drawn to the passerine or songbirds that were on the list – birds that we associate with seeing in our gardens and surrounding countryside. I identified 33 songbirds on the red list and have made pieces of work to highlight the plight of these 33 birds.

Bear the Scar features cyanotypes of 33 silhouettes of birds on a vintage opera score. The title is from 3 words in the opera that can be read in one of the silhouettes.

I also used the cyanotype process on wood to create 33 individual works, each depicting one songbird. I used wood as I wanted to reflect their environment and I like the way the image is almost but not quite there – are they disappearing or reappearing? It’s up to us.

The Lightness of Being is about all 67 birds. It is a cyanotype of 67 feathers divided into 4 sections to represent the fact that 1 in 4 birds are endangered and on the red list. The title reflects the precariousness of the situation these birds are in.

sixty seven white feathers on a blue background

I have since discovered an amazing book called Red Sixty Seven ‘A collection of words and art inspired by Britain’s most vulnerable birds’ curated by Kit Jewitt. It is a collaboration between 67 authors and 67 artists to raise funds to support conservation work to reverse the decline of these red listed birds. If you are interested in art, conservation, birds and/or writing then this book is an absolute must– even, as it says on the back cover, that it should not exist. Find out more about this book from the British Trust for Ornithology.

 

The Shaggy Furrow Bee – The Fifty Bees Project

2 July 2021

As you probably realise by now one of the things I am really interested in is pollinators – especially bees- so I was delighted to be selected to make a piece of work about a British bee.

The Fifty Bees Project is initiated and organised by artist and curator, Lydia Needle. This is the fifth Fifty Bees exhibition (I participated in the 4th one too) which aims to show how diverse our British bee population is and how endangered and pivotal they are to our ecosystem. Lydia creates fifty bees for each exhibition from wool and stitch and asks 50 collaborators (visual artists, makers, writers and musicians to join her in the project. To each one she allocates a specific bee and asks for a companion piece of work that relates to, but is not of, that bee.

I have been allocated Lasioglossum villosulum also known as the Shaggy Furrow bee.  The exhibition isn’t until 2022 so I have plenty of time to do my research and create a piece of work.

The best starting point for any bee related research is a wild life guide called Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Steven Falk. I have listened to him give a talk on bees and he is very knowledgeable and entertaining. You can follow him on twitter and see his fantastic photographs on flickr.

book cover field guide to bees

I have been looking for the Shaggy Furrow on my daily walks as it is fairly common and visits flowers that are in bloom at the moment such as cat’s ear, hawk’s-beards and buttercups and umbellifers – and there is so much cow parsley out at the moment. Anyway, I haven’t spotted one yet but I am collecting and pressing these flowers.

You can find out more about the Fifty Bees project on Facebook and Instagram

For the Love of Insects

22 June 2021

It is Insect Week this week 21-27 June 2021. It is an initiative to help us understand the importance of insects by The Royal Entomological Society

I love insects, always have done. One of my first books was The Observer’s Book of Common Insects and Spiders and my copy was published in 1966.

It is interesting to read it again now as it shows how some species have declined rapidly over a 50 year period. In the section on Woodland butterflies it states ‘The High Brown Fritillary also flies in woods during July, and in the heat of the day likes to haunt open clearings where thistles are in flower’

It was very common then but is now classed as Critically Endangered on the Butterfly Red List for Great Britain

Much of my artwork has a backstory and sometimes that relates to insects. Some insect species have evolved so that their larvae emerge at the same time as the plants they feed on. Because of changes in environmental and farming practices these are increasingly becoming out of sync so when the larvae emerge there is no food for them, and this has knock on effects up the food chain.

For example this year 24% of blue tit clutches failed due to weather conditions which meant that the oak tree budded later than usual so the winter moth caterpillars had nothing to feed on and so the blue tits had no caterpillars to feed themselves or their young.

One million species of insects have been identified worldwide but it is estimated that there could be 10 million different species in total. They are the largest and most diverse group of animals on earth and are responsible for pollinating plants and crops, they are food for other animals and they also feed on animals and plants and some are scavengers breaking down waste such as dead animals and plants.

My favourite insects have to be bees, I keep honey bees and I have learned about many other species of bee too. Can’t live without them…..none of us can.

Find out more about insect week here and maybe you can give them some love too.

Slowly, silently, now the moon – inspiration for this artwork

7 June 2021

silver moon trees running wolf

 

Silver  (Walter De La Mare 1913)

Slowly, silently, now the moon

Walks the night in her silver shoon;

This way, and that, she peers, and sees

Silver fruit upon silver trees;

One by one the casements catch

Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;

Couched in his kennel, like a log,

With paws of silver sleeps the dog;

From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep

Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;

A harvest mouse goes scampering by,

With silver claws and a silver eye;

And moveless fish in the water gleam,

By silver reeds in a silver stream.

 

This is one of the first poems I ever learned and I have never forgotten it because it creates such exquisite powerful visual imagery for me.

It is set in the countryside on a clear warm summer’s night and the mood is quiet and still. The moon moves slowly and silently, illuminating everything below it.

The ethereal appearance of the smoke used to make this artwork matches the ghostly transience evoked by the poem.

Slowly Silently now the Moon is currently at The Paragon Gallery in Cheltenham.

Dancing with Thieves – the inspiration behind the work

2 June 2021


five flying magpies silver glitter disco ball

I thought I would write about what inspires me and how concepts and ideas come together to create a new piece of work.

Dancing with Thieves has been in my mind for a while – I watch magpies outside my studio window every day, they are very sociable birds and I watch them taking chances and making choices – they are beautiful and never stop chattering.

I am fascinated by the folklore about magpies – there is a popular nursery rhyme about magpies that is derived from an old English folksong:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.

Five for silver  – magpies are said to steal shiny objects and such a magpie was the villain in an opera written in 1817 by Gioachino Rossini  called La Gazza Ladra –  known in english as The Thieving Magpie. The story tells of a maid who almost goes to the gallows for stealing silver, before it is discovered that the culprit was a magpie, which had been thieving and hiding items in the church tower.

So I thought, what if the magpies stole a disco glitter ball – what fun we could have dancing around it outside in the moonlight……..

 

 

 

 

 

The Hedgerow as Sanctuary – Inspiration for Art

4 May 2021

Until recently hedgerows did not feature directly in my artworks but brought together together many of the things that inspire me. I have always seen the hedgerow as a sanctuary for wildlife.

 

Hedgerows provide shelter, navigational aids, homes and travel corridors and are a food source for many small mammals, birds and insects.  I have a beautiful hedge in my garden that is home to many birds as well as a big fat rat that tries to steal their food.  I guess even rats need a sanctuary (and better my hedge than my house!) and they play their part in the ecosystem.

 

I did not know until I was researching for my article for the British Sundial Society (see earlier post) that in a local environment birds use solar clues such as shadows cast by hedges for orientation as this can show the direction of the sun and the time of day. Bats also use hedges for navigation at night.

 

Hedgerows are also important for capturing carbon from the air and helping the current climate crisis.

 

But despite all these positives, hedgerows are not as prolific as they once were and are often not managed properly.  This is partly due to changes in farming practices.

 

Hedges comprise of a number of different plant species and recently I have been making cyanotypes using blossom branches from blackthorn and willow.  Some of these cyanotypes were made later in the day when the sun was lower in the sky and this has added a really interesting shadow effect to the resultant images – showing them as the bird sees them for navigation maybe?cyanotype blue and white shadow of tree branch


You can sign up to my newsletter and get posts like these in your inbox on a regular basis.