I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction of my work and I need to stop, reflect and review.
Last week I went to a friends house and saw my big drawing of Soudley Ponds, chalk on black paper, on her wall. It looked amazing. And I asked myself why I have stopped doing these drawings. It seems crazy, when I was doing large drawings of landscapes they were selling, as was my book. Then I stopped.
Looking back, I want to understand what happened there. I know that when I first did the landscape drawings it was very much inspired by my need to draw after my brother’s death. I drew because I had no choice, because I was so unstable. As I’ve always wanted to write a book as well, I did both at the same time. Drawing was my rescue remedy. Just as Richard Mabey saw Nature as his.
I absolutely loved going out in the landscape, tracking down the pairs of both banks, exploring, taking panoramic photos, then coming back and working with them in the studio. I think the fact that the process required a system of activity anchored me. I had a map, a chosen route which took me to visit opposite banks of the river. Everything was sequential. I had a process and a subject matter that existed in front of me, all I had to do was to bring the banks together. It was very much a response to my brother’s death and to Brexit, both of them broke my heart. The action of drawing both sides also meant a lot to me in terms of dealing with my divorce after nearly 30 years of marriage .That was later revealed to me in my book, it certainly wasn’t intentional at the time of writing. I only realised once finished and published that the book wasn’t only about the river, it was about me and my coming to terms with change.
After that series, I more or less went straight into doing drawings of local landscapes, such as Soudley ponds. Looking back, I entered a period of settlement, of inhabiting this place. I walked regularly at Soudley ponds and have always enjoyed the exquisite light at dawn and dusk. Catching it on black paper with white was very challenging, but I loved doing it. Most of all, I immersed myself physically while drawing on this massive piece of paper.
Prior to lockdown I taught myself charcoal drawn animation, inspired by William Kentridge. I had a desire to commission a singer or composer to create a kulning song, to call in the Severn Bore. But I didn’t have a budget to do so. Animation allowed me to create that scene. I didn’t know at the time of making that I would later collaborate with Eva Rune, the singer of the song I had on the tiny animation. That happened during the pandemic and is another story to tell.
Covid has made me lose all sense of time. I can’t remember the year I did the pond drawings, or the animations, I shall have to look it up. What I do know is I had a stressful period at work, then tumbled into the pandemic. Everything stopped. Instead of turning to drawing, I returned to making video films. The pandemic allowed me days and days of walking up and down the river, lying in the sunshine and just watching, gazing and being in the landscape. While everything in the world became weirder and weirder, I felt increasingly grounded. It was a gift of time. Obviously it wasn’t stress free. But it did feel like the planet had stopped turning and I was able to step off, if only for a while.
It was great getting back into filming. I find great joy in using a video camera, much more than I do a stills camera, because it demands focused attention on the subject matter, to catch movement. While I look at the scene I move the camera to follow my gaze. Alternately, I use the camera as a passive tool – capturing the world as it performs for the lens.
Different to when I’m drawing. Then it is me that is moving, body, hands and eyes. The paper stays still, it receives and holds. The drawing process puts me in contact with both the material and the subject. All of the river drawings were informed by panoramic photographs. When taking panoramics, my body is actively involved in the process. Many people commented on the fact that when I take panoramic photos, I pivot. I feel like I’m dancing because my body is totally in control of the action of taking the photograph. Most photography requires the camera to be as still as possible, which is why we often use tripods.
Taking a panoramic photograph captures a sequence of moments in time, stitched together. This is clearly visible when someone moves through the landscape while taking the photograph. Because what happens is, as you move the lens, when a body moves in front of the camera in the same direction, but more quickly, you are taking a series of shots of that person. This creates a blurring motion in the photo, Iike ghostly animation frames.
I haven’t written about this before, or even considered the connection between the process of making drawings, panoramic photos, video and photography. I need to think about this a little before I say any more.
The next stage to investigate is my return to printmaking and drawing. And the challenges of trying to depict a prospective landscape – how it will look in 20 years time, underwater. When hills become islands.
2 thoughts on “Studio practice Part 1 – stop, reflect and review”
Fascinating stuff C! 🙂
thanks Simon. hope all is well