Sunday, 24 July 2011

Hand made

I finished the Play & Learn Resource packs for Nottingham Contemporary.  There are six packs, all delivered to the Contemporary and already being shown to various potential users.

Also, in my collaborative project Undiscovered Networks, Carole and I are just about finished making the maps as a result of the Wellbeing Walks project (visit the blog for the full story).

Hand drawing maps for Wellbeing Walks
There is something about the handmade that is special.  The Play & Learn packs have been well received so far, partly because of the tactile quality of them as they have been hand printed.  You can feel (and still smell!) the textures of the inks, the green is smooth to the touch, the cotton fabric is rougher, the gold colour has a slight sheen.  They feel substantial in the hand, and each one is slightly different and unique.

Although we are having to reproduce all our items for the Undiscovered Networks project, Carole and I did agree from the beginning that we wanted everything to have been hand made originally and to look that way.

Hand printing with Carole for Undiscovered Networks
There is something I like about making things that are intended for the corporate and branded but making them by hand, putting my own spin on it (Nottingham Contemporary has its own distinct branding look, and in Undiscovered Networks we are responding to the branding of the rail companies).  Instead of the polished, perfect look of the digital and reproductive print, the hand made has that personal touch.  With the Play & Learn packs I've stayed within the branding guidelines but everything is slightly off-set, the motifs are repeated but in a different sequence each time, the edges are sometime slightly blurry and you can tell that everything is hand cut.

The result is something that seems friendly, softened, that seems to carry my signature, or my "touch".  Somehow I feel this puts me in touch with the people who might pick it up and use it.  I introduced the packs to a group of family tutors last week, and just watching them open up the pockets and explore the packs, stroking the tactile surfaces with their fingers, somehow I felt the fact that I made these with my own hands and then passed them into their hands gave me a closer connection to the way they will be used.

It's exciting to launch something like this into the world.  I shall be watching with interest who uses them and how.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

I am working on making new Resource Packs for Nottingham Contemporary.

They are going to trial this as an idea for visitors with children to the galleries.  They can pick up one of these fabric packs and use them to explore the exhibitions in a playful way.

Because I need to make several of them, I decided to screen print them.  Made of cotton, they unfold into a big mat that families can sit on in the galleries.  The mat will have several pockets containing objects, textures, and ideas for exploring the exhibition.

They're taking longer to make than I had anticipated!  But it's really good to be screen printing again.  At the moment the packs are half printed and hanging all around my studio.  I'm quite enjoying the abstract compositions that they make hanging up.

I'm also making each one slightly different, and I want it to be obvious that it is hand made rather than machine made.  I'll be layering other patterns on top.  Each one will be unique.

Not just a resource pack, but a unique piece of hand crafted art to play with when you visit the galleries.  Should be fun.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Hills and plains

A busy week, working on projects as diverse as sewing a fabric resource pack for Nottingham Contemporary, printing works for the Undiscovered Networks project and discovering more parts of the River Nene for the Three Jos in a boat project!

The county of Northamptonshire is very flat, hence the River Nene through here moves very slowly.  I discovered that BB visited a longer stretch of the river than I had previously thought, from Wollaston all the way to Alwalton.  So the project director Ros Stoddart and I decided to visit Wollaston to see what it was like.

The map of the River Nene produced by the Environment Agency for river users is interesting.  It focuses on the information that river users need, with just the briefest acknowledgment of surrounding roads.  Locks are more important to river users than towns or roads, these are the points for navigation and location.  This river map gives little information about the shape of the landscape around it.

So walking down from the hill from Great Doddington towards the river we suddenly become aware of how wide the river valley is.  As the village is up on a hill you get a marvelous view of the river below and some of the lakes around it.

I started to compare this with the experience I had had when travelling on the river as the Three Jos back in May and June.  When on a boat you feel incredibly "placed" with the river, the experience is very much on one plane.  So it was quite startling to see the river as part of a wider landscape and become aware of its valley.

The river from the boat.  Still waters.
Ideas for the River map are coming on well and I hope to do quite a lot of work on this over the next few weeks.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Drawing and redrawing a river

This week I have begun experimenting for my River Nene project.

Three Jos in a Boat is a commission by Ros Stoddart as part of a series of events inspired by Denys Watkins-Pitchford, a Northamptonshire naturalist, children's writer and illustrator who wrote under the pseudonym "BB".

My part in the project is to create a map of the stretch of the River Nene that BB wrote about in his book "A Summer on the Nene".

When I first start drawing maps I love the abstract lines before any information or detail is included. Each map has its own unique shape and beauty.

This section of the River Nene is incredibly lovely, it twists and turns but simultaneously has a distinct linear direction. I have been reading about how rivers are created and the bends in a river are technically called "meanders".

The meanders continually erode the banks by the movement of the water. The River Nene at this point is very slow moving, so the erosion is also gradual. You have the idea that the river is continually redrawing itself over time, but at a pace we cannot see.

Rather than being a fixed shape like a map, the river is continually changing itself, widening and redefining its edges over time. I get the sense that this drawing is less of a fixed guide map and more of a snapshot in time, a drawing of the river as it is at this moment but it is remaking itself just as I draw it.

Ros Stoddart is organising a number of events along the River over the next year, starting tonight! They include storytelling, music, walks with natural historians, poetry in pubs and more ... visit her website for details: