Final Reflections on completing Painting 3- Major Project and Contextual Studies.

Following the various adjustment I have made in response to my final tutorial I delivered my submission in person to Barnsley last week. I didn’t rush to write some final reflections, wondering how I might feel about having completed this important part of the course. As I look back I felt as though the words I wrote about how I came to the artist statement I have written sum up well the journey-

‘It is quite hard to describe fully how my practice has developed and to be described as I have done in my artist statement. In many ways it has been a long journey that began way back before I started this course. It has come about, too, at what can only be described as the darkest time in my life.

In the early part of the course where I was already working with willow as my focus, I also needed to be busy, active and engaged – leading to an intuitive and experiential approach- and this took me to working across media. At this time I just wanted to work without reflecting too much. I had many uncertainties through this time relating to the materials I had chosen, the nature of my work going backwards and forwards between 2D and 3D, which I have since considered to perhaps be related to the situation in my life. There were a number of artists that gave me the confidence to continue with embracing of willow in all its forms- Tania Kovats for her broad enquiry around water, Ursula von Rydingsvard for her focus on the Cedar tree and then Eva Hesse for her extensive exploration of her materials, in particular latex.

It was through a piece of work for my Contextual studies that I came to acknowledge that I had been making and doing things with willow for probably 15 years, so in some respects I had retreated to a space that was safe and familiar. It was through this ‘Conversation’ piece that I also reflected on how in some respects the willow had become a major ‘presence’ in my life, and in so doing was a kind of acknowledgement of the ‘absence’ I felt.

It is quite difficult to really chart how my practice has unfolded in brief, as it has happened in parallel with some very difficult times. I have done my best to record through my blog events as they have unfolded and how I have felt at the time.

Finding the work of John Newling has I think been key to how I have moved forward. The discovery of his ‘Lemon Tree’ project, and subsequent works that have included living materials, have led me to a new understanding of thinking about creative work.

Through my critical review, where I was looking at the work of Eva Hesse and John Newling and considering aspects of their work in relation to the impermanence of their chosen materials, I came to a greater understanding of a conceptual approach to work. I came to see that what I saw as Newling’s material, the Lemon Tree, was a tool to explore his actions- the ideas of care, nurturing and uncertainty. This I was able to relate to the work I had been making with the willow, and to make sense of it as a whole; the living willow sculptures and making charcoal part of the same continuum. I started to think about the idea of a model of practice- a parallel space that would encompass all aspects of the life of a willow that would take into account the natural flux’s of nature. From planting to making charcoal I started to think about the potential for a sustainable practice- growing ones own material with which to make work, and this took me to thinking about how the work I have been doing might also relate to the wider world-

  • the need for sustainability
  • an appreciation of diversity
  • adaptability to change
  • an appreciation of the benefits of collaboration

On a personal level my collaboration with willow is what has, in part, sustained me as I have had to adapt to change, through a practice diverse in approach.

As I have progressed through the course and have been able to reflect more, the connections between art and life have cropped up repeatedly. On reading about Allan Kaprow’s ‘action collages’ being a way of reconciling the work of Jackson Pollack and John Cage- the painterly and conceptual, the physical and theoretical- my mind turned to my contextual piece about Hesse and Newling, and I sensed that this is what I had been doing.

When I came to writing my statement, I thought a lot about Newlings work. I found myself feeling that there is a ‘poetic’ nature to his writing and that his words were very carefully chosen and placed strategically. It has also been through Newlings writings too that I have started to see the influence of the works of the philosopher, Heidegger- ideas about ‘dwelling’ and ‘being’, and discovering his book, ‘Poetry, language and thought’. This led me think more carefully about the words I chose and where I used them. The words ‘being with willow’ seemed to encompass everything I have done through out this course.

This time has been one of very mixed emotions, negotiating a path between certainty and uncertainty, and back again. Artistically I feel satisfied with the place I am at, but in many ways feel that I am not at the end, but just the beginning.’

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Reflections on tutor report for Major Project assignment 5

A relief to have got to this point and pleased that M. senses that through the course I have managed to define my practice, which is something I feel. Through my practical work, alongside my contextual studies, I do feel as though I have found a way to work that brings a number of interests together. During the tutorial whilst looking at my potential submission there were a number of issues around presentation and detail that M. flagged up that may benefit from further attention if possible before submitting.

‘That’s just how it is…’

These paintings, as we discussed, are pretty much ready to go. So no adjustments but will be careful to protect the surfaces as I pack them up.

‘Something, but Nothing’

M. felt that the photos I had selected, particularly as I intend them to form documentation of the work, gave little sense of context, so I have re-shot these. I took the sculpture outside where the lighting was better and you are better able to get an impression of its size. It also occurred to me that it relates better to the ‘garden space’ which is where much of my practice has occurred.

With comments M. made in mind with regard giving directions for viewing the works I have made an additional short video for the work, ‘Something, but Nothing’, to illustrate my intension on how the sculpture and video might be experienced together, with the use of a projector. I found that physically setting up a potential viewing experience was a really useful exercise, and did extend what I had envisioned into a bigger experience. I found myself projecting the video much larger than I had imagined. This did effect the impact of the sculpture within the space, it made me wonder if it had become lost, but in-fact for me it seemed to emphasise the idea of ‘something, but nothing’ even more. I was also drawn to looking at the sculpture and the shadow it created which also made me think ‘is the sculpture something, and the shadow nothing?’ I felt that the pieces were working together on a number of levels. Whilst experimenting with the projector I set up a ‘screen’ using horticultural fleece (also reflective of the garden space) which worked really well, as it created a good surface where the video could be viewed, but its translucent qualities allowed the projection to pass through and be viewed as a larger projection on the wall behind, creating a multi-layered space with movement.

Through extending this work in this way it became apparent that the scenario I have created illustrates the potential of the work in an exhibition space, but also highlights that the full realization of the piece can only come about as I work into the Professional Practice module and locate a suitable viewing platform, which might require some final adjustments.

‘There are no words’

During my final tutorial we spoke about how this work might be viewed. My earlier thoughts was that it could be viewed in a number of ways, but I think I have come to think of it being presented as a pile of 16 sheets- it is a book of absence, each sheet contains an element of absence, but for the viewer only the surface is visible- for me this relates to idea that in absence there are many, many layers of loss felt- gaps, traces, memories- and no-one looking on can fully know the depths of that loss, but only see the surface that is presented.

In conversation with M. we spoke also about giving it more of a sense of being and lifting it away from the everyday. I have created a wooden (oak) base for the pages to sit on which works well. Ideally I would like to have made a base of wood from a willow tree, but it is not a wood that is available in planks. The wood that I sourced is from off-cuts at a local wood yard, which I like to think of as making use of something other wise considered as a by-product (or waste).

‘It has come to this…’

In many ways this group of work has created the most challenges in terms of how to best present to fully convey the nature of the work. I had been thinking that I would be presenting these mostly through documentation, particularly as the large ‘trace drawings’ each measure 150 x 150 cms and are rolled up. During my final tutorial M. and I discussed the pros and cons of getting the actual works to Barnsley- the benefits of assessors getting a ‘real’ sense of the works despite potential damage by viewing them, against the logistics of getting them there and how travel might effect them, also divergence from assessment guidelines. We concluded that if I could get them there it may be of benefit, particularly as I have fully documented them photographically. M. emphasised the importance of negotiating with the OCA as large rolled up pieces do deviate from assessment guidelines. So, I did speak with Joanne at OCA who reassured me that, particularly as it was part of my final submission, it would be OK. Somehow being reassured about this has enabled other things to almost slot into place.

So I will package the 3 trace drawings with instructions/guidance on how they might best be viewed, along with the wooden pieces and bulldog clips that I used in the video that illustrates the process and hanging. I would also add that I am aware that the viewing could potentially damage the surface, they have been documented and serve to illustrate potential works that could be made as a performative aspect of exhibiting my work at/in a suitable viewing platform, as described in my Projection of Potential Scenario of making Trace Drawings in exhibition space.

During the tutorial we spoke about how best to convey a sense of the works, so as I thought about the ‘floor works’ which no longer exist- they are pieces that are part of the process that culminate in the ‘Trace drawings’, so now only exist as photographic documentation and fragments of charcoal from the making. So, the photographs of the 3 floor work I have had printed up to the approximate size they were in reality, and these could be placed on the floor to give a sense of how they might be experienced from above. To add to the sense of how they might have been experienced I have made an additional short video that takes a closer look at the surface of one of the works, which gives a better sense of the charcoal landscape. I shall also include some samples of the charcoal made during the process.

Photographically some of the photos that I proposed as possible submissions to document certain works did show some inconsistencies across the group, down to slight colour cast- I have already given these some attention in photoshop since the tutorial, and have been able to achieve what appears to be a slightly better finish, but this does highlight the issues around the quality of documentation if you are going to work with ephemerality.

Artist Statement

On discussion M. felt that my statement does give a good sense of my work, but might benefit from being a little more specific about the media I have worked with, so I shall make some adjustments to reflect this. She also spoke about how I might enhance the statement visually to give a better sense of the whole process of growing willow, the garden as studio, the greenhouse as laboratory, through to the process of making charcoal and subsequent drawings, paintings and documentation. With this in mind I have gone through my significant archive of photographs and created 2 photo-collages that I hope illuminate ‘The time of presence’ and ‘The time of absence’, as alluded to in my statement. I will call this my visual statement.

Overall I do think that feedback from my final assignment has been very helpful in terms of thinking more about and trying out ideas around presentation and viewing which have resulted in changes from my original intentions. As I prepare for assessment I shall also try to think carefully about the supporting work that I send too to help further reflect the nature my practice has taken. I have aimed to record the various aspects through my blog, and given a flavour of these in the gallery I have created there.

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Reflections on tutor report for Conceptual Studies assignment 5.

I am pleased that O. feels that this piece of work is ‘much improved’, and recognises that it has come about though a commitment to my own work and a willingness to connect with the concerns of other artists. There are times whilst working on this piece that I felt that there was possibly incoherence about it, but in pursuing it I do feel as though I made some very relevant insights for my own practice. Since submitting my critical review, whilst exploring the work of Allan Kaprow, I have written this in my blog-

It is funny one of the first notes I made on reading was-

‘ephemeral, performative and notational practices increasingly central to art of the late 20thC and early 21stC’.

It became apparent quite quickly that this was very close to the ideas I was wrestling with for my Contextual Studies Critical Review. And when I read that in many ways Kaprow’s ‘action collages’ were a way of reconciling the work of Jackson Pollack and John Cage- the painterly and conceptual, the physical and theoretical- this set me thinking about the work I had just done around Eva Hesse and John Newling. The connection between art and life was also something that cropped up during my research.

So, when O. writes in my report, ‘Your main concern now is how you respond to the material you have researched’, I do feel as though I have achieved a better understanding of how to bring together the conceptual ideas that underpin the work, with the physical work itself. This in turn adds to my confidence to pursue one aspect of my practical work where I have been exploring how to work with ephemerality, performative and notational practices.

At the end of a piece where I reflected on how I came to my artist statement I wrote this-

‘This time has been one of very mixed emotions, negotiating a path between certainty and uncertainty, and back again. Artistically I feel satisfied with the place I am at, but in many ways feel that I am not at the end, but just the beginning.’

This sense of not being at the end, but closer to the beginning also rings true for my contextual studies. I feel I have covered a lot of ground, but am already considering how best to take my work forward, and with a growing list of reading to explore.

On a more practical note, regarding my submission- following my report and O’s suggestions to perhaps edit down some areas, I did consider making a digital submission. Following discussion with O. though I have decided to make a physical submission so that elements like mind maps and handwritten notes etc. can be physically experienced.

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So close to the end!!!

Not something I imagined would happen, but so close to the end and I have used up the space for uploading media, so in order to present my final assignment for Painting 3-Major Project I have created a new blog.

Assignment 5 for Painting 3- Major Project can be found at-


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How to present making a Trace drawing as a performance piece.

The idea that the making of a trace drawing could be part of the exhibiting, came about because the nature of the surface of the final works have been so fragile that transporting and even storing could, potentially, jeopardise their integrity. To make them where they are to be hung could solve this dilemma. There are clearly options on how this might be achieved- it could be made as part of installing the exhibition or the making could become part of the showing. The Doug Aiken- ‘Station to station- a 30 day happening’ in London recently included a number of spaces that did just this- there was a working print workshop, a graphic art studio making album covers and an artist painting the answers to people’s questions. The Soil Culture exhibition recently in Plymouth also included a number of studio spaces with artists working on their projects relating to theme of the exhibition, as part of the exhibition. I do quite like the idea of activity as part of showing, as it does often stimulate dialogue, and I in some ways make it more accessible.

Kaprow described a ‘Happening’ as something that lies in the gap between two verbal articulations-

  1. The scenario or projection of the Happening
  2. Recollection or Commentary.

So, although visually I have quite a good idea of what I might intend I need to write a projection of the scenario as I see it. To help me break down the activity in order to do this, and to record the detail I made a number of flow diagrams.

Even as I have written these words I have changed the word ‘gallery’ (that I wrote in the diagram) for ‘viewing platform’ (in the photo caption) as it occurs to me that a traditional gallery may not be the space to show this work. And as I still have to complete the Professional Practice part of the course it seems prudent to keep my options open on how it might finally be shared. For the purpose here I shall imagine working in an indoor space sufficiently large to accommodate a making space and a hanging space.


Projection of potential scenario to make Trace drawing as part of exhibition, to  include working studio space that shows part of the process.

Time requirements- at least 4-5 days in order to make and process required amount of charcoal.

Space requirements– an indoor space sufficiently large to accommodate a making space (table, chair, and materials) and a hanging space (at least 2 x 2m, with similar floor space in front of it).

Materials/ Equipment

  • Chair
  • Table
  • Bundle of willow (preferably that I have grown, otherwise farmed) – either green or pre-soaked and ready to use.
  • Secateurs
  • Collection of small tins (that will fit in fire)
  • Bag of dry sand
  • 3-4 plastic bowls
  • Spoon/scoop for sand
  • Roll of heavy paper 150 cms wide
  • Scissors
  • Long ruler
  • Wooden frame (to weight paper on aperture edge)
  • Approx.8 weights (to hold paper down)
  • 4 wooden lengths 150 cms long- for hanging
  • 4 new large bulldog clips- for hanging
  • Camera
  • Note/sketchbook
  • Tool to carefully lift charcoal from sand
  • Plate/box to collect charcoal
  • One of the living willow sculptures (Optional)
  • A selection of books related to willow/charcoal making (Optional)

Projection of Scenario.

My first task will be to prepare the paper (150 x150 cms) and hang it (using wooden lengths and bulldog clips), in its blank state, in the space.

To make previous Trace drawings I have had to prepare between 2 and 4 tins of charcoal prior to making the drawing.

Over a number of days I imagine creating a space where I can work with willow, making the spheres and packing them into tins with sand ready to be made into charcoal. For this work I imagine bringing them home for the burning, and returning the ‘ready’ tins to the space. I will aim to have 3-4 tins ready to make the drawing.

I will need to enlist a number of helpers to make the drawing and document its making.

Lay prepared paper on the floor in front of hanging space.

Lay previously prepared paper, also 150 x 150 cms, but with square aperture, 60 x 60 cms, cut from middle, over the top and weigh down using ready made wooden frame and weights.

Select 3-4 ‘ready’ tins and empty contents into space created by aperture.

Remove weights and wooden frame.

Carefully lift paper with aperture to revel ‘floor work’.

At this stage the work could be left for a period of time (an hour or 24 hrs) before completing the Trace drawing, allowing time to consider and document fully this stage.

To complete final stage- carefully remove charcoal into container, then the paper can be lifted and the charcoal covered sand emptied into a plastic bowl, revealing the drawing.

Hang the drawing.

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‘It has come to this…’

I’m pleased that I have been able to get some more charcoal made so that I could make another large trace drawing. It has occurred to me that if I can document the process of making through to hanging the drawing, it will illustrate the viability of my idea that the making and showing could have potential as a performative element of exhibiting my work. The previous testing out of hanging possibilities have been crucial in deciding to go forward with this.

‘It has come to this…’ Charcoal, Charcoal dust and sand. Floor Based work 60 x 60 cms

‘It has come to this…’
Charcoal, Charcoal dust and sand.
Floor Based work
60 x 60 cms

Trace Drawing made from ‘It has come to this…’ Charcoal Dust on Paper. 150 x 150 cms (detail)

Trace Drawing made from ‘It has come to this…’
Charcoal Dust on Paper.
150 x 150 cms

I was really pleased with how this went. I think it does illustrate that it has potential as a performative piece, providing a suitable venue could be found for exhibiton- it’s possible ‘dust’ might be a problem. The other thing I found pleasing was that some of the charcoal spheres had come out in a more robust form and holding their shape much better. Was that just a fluke? Or have I intuitively been adjusting my making? It certainly gives me the confidence to continue, and maybe be more adventurous in my making.

Ideas are starting to gel in terms of presenting this work for assessment. Now that I have made 3 large trace drawings I could present the video as documentation of the process with photographic documentation of the 3 trace drawings and associated floor works. Along with these I will present a written description of how the making of such a piece could be presented as a performative part of exhibiting.

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Testing out hanging of Trace Drawing.

In discussions around my Trace Drawings and their potential as Performative pieces- the making and showing as part of the exhibiting, M. and I spoke about how to take it from the making to the showing. How would it be shown? On the ground? On the wall? As a film piece? My feeling is still that it could be made in a space and then hung straight onto the wall- this would cut out the potential for damage to the integrity of what is a very delicate surface. In a way this remains speculative as I have yet to secure an exhibition space, but I set out to show that it could be achieved.

The size of the pieces I have made, 150 x 150 cms, is in part the main challenge, but also using  paper from a roll that tends to roll back up. I knew it would need weighting down in some way so that it hung flat. I can’t quite recall how I came to my idea, but long flat pieces of wood and bulldog clips came to mind. And I had spotted a place on the outside of our conservatory with hooks already in place to try out hanging. I used the large sheet of paper with the aperture cut out (the one used for the trace drawings) which is the same size to test out hanging.

I was really pleased that this seems to have worked well. It has reassured me that it is possible. Inside it was stopped hanging straight down because of the log-burner behind, but I would aim to avoid log-burners and water butts in my selection of gallery space. It also showed me that it would work with hooks or screws, if I had to worry about such things, and there is flexibility in that the bulldog clips can be moved along the wood if required to accommodate fixtures. A useful exercise.

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Making final selection for series.

Using the techniques previously described (in planning towards a series of works and working on a series of works) I finally made 17 paintings. From these I wanted to select 11 for my work that I have decided to call, ‘That’s just how it is’. My intention has been that there should be one work relating to each of the group of 8 willow sculptures, along with the 3 older willows that I have worked from too. Spreading them out was also the first opportunity to properly assess whether the re- sanding of some of the paintings had brought about the uniformity of surface that I was after, so quite pleased with that really. But also this highlights again this odd sense of the conflicting thoughts in trying to embrace ‘wrongness’, but at the same time finding elements that seem ‘too wrong’.

I was aware, as I have previously mentioned, their were a couple of the earlier paintings that just didn’t sit comfortably, mostly for the finish achieved, and I had only made one work relating to some of the willows- so I am pleased that I have been able to select 11 that adhere to my original intention.

Photo Collage of paintings selected for my work ‘That’s just how it is’.

Photo Collage of paintings selected for my work ‘That’s just how it is’.

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Revisiting Sequel II

Making this piece was a way of testing out that a work of this scale could be completed with a similar result. I had hoped to make more spheres, but felt the charcoal sticks and larger sphere would make a slight difference from the previous work. It is clearly a process full of uncertainties (see lessons learned below), and time heavy, but with interesting results.

Sequel II Revisited Charcoal, Charcoal dust and sand. Floor Based work 60 x 60 cms

Sequel II Revisited
Charcoal, Charcoal dust and sand.
Floor Based work
60 x 60 cms

Trace Drawing made from Sequel II Revisited. Charcoal Dust on Paper. 150 x 150 cms (detail)

Trace Drawing made from Sequel II Revisited.
Charcoal Dust on Paper.
150 x 150 cms

Obviously works of this nature are very fragile to store- a danger of disturbing the surface by rolling and quite large to store or transport flat. I have used a fixative on them and rolled them due to limited storage space. I have spoken with M. about the idea of making work such as this in the gallery where it could be hung after the making and so maintain the integrity of the surface. We spoke about Dieter Roth who would include elements of the making into his exhibitions. He created mixed media installations where assistants would create casts of Roth’s famous chocolate and sugar self- portrait busts. As I still have to work towards the Professional Practice element and do not yet have a venue for exhibition it does add to the difficulty of making decisions about how and what I can do.

I started to look back at some of the earlier trace drawings I have made as I consider how it might best shared in a gallery (or other chosen venue).

In many ways these were the first few ‘accidents’ that set me on this path of recording and capturing something of the end of the process of the making of charcoal. These were made on A2 sized paper, and made me think about using larger sheets for future batches of charcoal.

These were both made on A1, and still capture the energy of that moment. Even these smaller pieces have an equally delicate surface to the larger works which would make them difficult to transport- clearly an issue for assessment, but also for showing.

Seeing the documentation of Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Connecting across country with a line’ at Doug Aitkin’s ‘Station to Station- a 30 day happening’ in London recently did make me think about the possibilities of showing a number of smaller works, along with a film of the process. This may be a suitable way to show the work for assessment, but then for exhibition a studio space could be set up to show the various stages of the process – the making of the spheres, the packing of tins and willow forms with sand, etc. This aspect would clearly depend on the space acquired for exhibition, and negotiation with that space.

Last night I managed to fire some more charcoal tins. I have a few more prepared ready to go and am starting to wonder if I should use these to make a number of smaller works that might be submitted (with care!) for assessment, and hope they travel well, or make another larger work so that I have made 3 works 150 x 150 cms, but submit photographic documentation of these. I am finding this quite a hard decision to make. I will dwell on this as I prepare some more charcoal, and think a little more about how a ‘studio’ scenario might unfold as part of the exhibition.


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