Starlings & A Tut Tut Tut

Mealworms scattered freely

I stand behind glass watching

A solitary blackbird hops silently down, pecking each offering, one by one

Streams of starlings arrive steadily, unsteadily lining up on the wall, perching on the pergola 

They gather, chattering clicking, calling for more to join, youngsters wobble nervously waiting for the all clear

I step back

Out of their sightline

And whoosh! Descending in a cloud, their flapping wind scattering their target

As they search under saucers and plant pots the fighting begins

I open the door, they rise like a storm, wings cracking like thunder, then gone, in a flash

One fragile fledgling left pecking, awkwardly, unaware of the threat of my presence

When the penny drops it flies onto a sloping wall, sliding down like a child on a stair rail

I wait until it steadies then takes off to find the others

They will be back

I will hear them

Meanwhile a familiar sound, tut tut tut,

A solitary blackbird hops silently down, pecking each offering, one by one

Performance Drawings (by Birds)

starling fledglings noisily arrive, gathering on wall, outside my door, some young and pale, others older

bearing warrior markings, bright white feathers on chests, ruling the roost, descending together, as one

cacophony of flapping, twitchy squacky young birds, shifty sky divers, gathering, preparing, for tricky flight path in

bracing, dropping with speed, then hopping down steps, one by one, leaving white line traces of nervous descent

squabbling, jostling for space, guzzling mealworms, sudden sounds alarm, raising a loud cloud, ball of neurosis takes flight

big fat pigeon waddles, cracking open seeds dropped from sparrow feeding frenzy, leaving pollock splashes on the ground

boundaries, butterflies & lines

A strange combination, but they have been on my mind. And not so strange if I explain that last week, the First Friday Walk with Walking the Land, was to a butterfly conservation area.

I set off with the intention of looking at the boundaries, how we separate one place from another. How we protect the area that is bounded, defend it, or, indeed as all wars prove, attack it. Any conservation area begins and ends somewhere, as does every garden, field, village, town, county or country. Planet. Let us not forget this planet. 

Or who ‘owns’ it.

Not us, or landowners, or governments.

No-one owns it.

We are part of it, it is part of us.

The very nature of the place, (forgive the pun), meant I was also distracted by the beautiful butterflies and wildflowers. I have a butterfly mind – just like the insects. I flutter about – looking for ideas, landing then taking off again on another flight path. 

It is so hard to write anything without considering the etymology of the words. But essentially they are spring-boards into new thinking, new worlds. I must not muddle up my metaphors (that is a deliberate statement – an action that demonstrates I have already done what I must not do.)

Stay with me, play with me, if you can.

This writing is a reflection of thinking practice. It needs some context. Walking the Land is a group of artists that connects art, landscape and community, with the landscape and walking providing the catalyst for their creative activities. I’ve been attending their monthly meetups online, this was my first in the flesh. Before meeting we congregated on zoom to discuss issues relating to landscape. I shared a quote from Tania Kovats ‘the river moves through us’. I took that thought with me to the butterfly enclosure. 

I also took drawing materials, which were hardly used – there was so much buzzing around in my head. I used my camera to net some of those thoughts. I have spent the last year walking, mostly on the flatlands around the Severn. The open fields and rolling Cotswolds were strange to me. Allowing my eye to trace the soft rounded hillsides sweeping into the valley, with a backdrop of woodlands, I was reminded of a series of photos I took when I first came to live in the Forest of Dean. I called them my squiffy landscapes, as they adjusted the framing to help me feel stable in this strange place. So I did the same again, I tried to level up what I saw. 

For the butterflies to take up residence the land is managed carefully. The meadows are beautiful, thick with diverse plant life. They are only grazed by small cattle – banded galloways – because they are agile enough to manage the steep slopes, and don’t poo as much as full size cows. Apparently too much poo encourages the limestone grassland to become suitably fertile for weeds to grow in. That would impact on the necessary species required to appeal to the butterflies. This is a complex ecology, a fine balance of maintenance.

On one side of the valley, the rolling meadow was animated by bees and butterflies. One the other side a steep bank of trees was seen, scarred by a massive band of ash trees, devastated by die-back. One hill is joyful, the other deeply sad to see. The view from ‘over there’ must be wonderful.

Other sides. Another thing that has occupied my thinking in recent years. 

I crossed a boundary, the Severn, to get to the meadow. I entered the conservation area through a gate. Either side of the gate was a drystone wall, recently built. Once inside, that length of boundary has two wire fences. In the liminal space between them, I saw remnants of the old stone wall. We followed the path along this line, then down towards the edge of the hill to take in the view.

As I wandered around taking photos I acknowledged my physical boundaries were being penetrated. The heavy scent of the ripe elderflowers rushed into my body and I inhaled deeply. However, I ejected a horsefly, caught in action on my wrist, flicking it off, glad to have not been gashed by it. But these devious creatures always win, as I found out later. Two big hot red bumps on my shoulder, where they slashed my skin (through my clothes!) and drew my blood. Odd to think our blood has mingled. I can’t help wondering whether the two jabs will make me immune to further horsefly bites. The insect repellent I had doused myself certainly didn’t defend me. 

This was evidence – the place had definitely gone through me, in a way.

As I wandered back to the car, having left early due to the copious number of biting things, I used my voice recorder to talk to myself. I love telling the story by voice, it helps me process what I have. I videoed and talked too, only pausing briefly when a man with a dog appeared. I try to keep my rambling thoughts private, if possible. 

On reflection, it was a very enjoyable experience. Lovely to see friends again, in the world. To discuss these thoughts with, to share reading resources, knowledge. We were very lucky to have Deb, a butterfly specialist, in the group, which is how I learnt about the grazing and maintenance of the landscape. I asked her if the owners of the adjoining farmland were asked to not use insecticides, but she said not.

I drove home thinking about Nick Hayes’ book about trespassing. About land ownership, land management. I thought about the precarious relationships between humans and non-humans. As I mentioned in my blackbird post – we humans have a colonial attitude to non-humans. But we are not better than them – we are, indeed, worse – because we have done more damage to the planet.

If the conservation area was publicly visible it would be destroyed in no time by humans marching around on it. I felt reluctant to stray from the narrow path, loathe to sit in the grass, in case I crushed a flower. Everything is fragile, especially us. We need to be more humble and accept responsibility. Not just for a field of butterflies, but for all fields, all forests and things that grow in cracks of concrete. 

There is always a gap of a few days before I assimilate things. 

Once home, I waded through memories, thoughts, photos and videos. They are the residue of my visit. I trapped my butterfly mind in a film that reflects on whether there are straight lines in nature. I have just started to read Tim Ingold’s book about lines – not finding it easy to get into. However, as the film shows, it has reactivated my interest in following lines with dual lenses, my eyes and my camera. Editing digital video is a linear thing, clearly not a thing of nature. As I worked up the imagery I found myself not so much investigating whether there are lines in nature, but more as to whether there is such a thing as nature? Or is it a construct? Every inch of our landscape is managed, whether by enclosure, farming, industry or conservation.

The nature we experience daily is a long way from being natural. The creatures and plants we experience have all been impacted by our presence on earth, sometimes positively, sometimes (most times) negatively. 

Look carefully at the film, some of it has been deliberately manipulated to create an illusion of straightness. 

Whether man made or natural, our landscape, and the things that live in it, are wonderful. The only way to keep it that way is if every human respects it and shares it. We put everything out of balance, we now need to rectify things, make good again.

p.s. I disagree that there are no straight lines in nature – you just need to look at cliffs and strata to see that.

Blackbird, on being human or non-human, responsibilities and liabilities. What animals teach us.

I seem to have built up a relationship with a blackbird. I didn’t consciously set out to do so. But maybe subconsciously I did. 

A few years ago I had a cat, Theo, who was from a rehoming place. He was semi-wild and mostly wanted feeding regularly, slept most of the day and hunted at night. He did come for cuddles and the nights he didn’t venture out I would wake up to find him asleep on my back. He was with me for less than a year before being hit by a car. I vowed not to get another cat while in this house. In all fairness to Theo, he had to go to the road side of my house because the neighbours’ big ginger tom cat ruled the back garden.

About two years ago I succumbed to the fact that really, I’d like a dog. I have always had dogs living with me. Born into a house with one, throughout my child-rearing days I had two cats, two dogs and two kids. I have always joked that my mother, when calling my sister, brother and I used to shout “Stephen, Susan, Sarah (dog), Whisky (cat) and (finally), Carolyn – come here!”

I don’t think I did that to my kids, they always came first, both of them. But the animals were never far behind.

Come the pandemic I have been unable to find a dog companion. The fence I was having put up just before March 2020 was delayed for a year. Now that is done, dog prices have gone sky high. They are being stolen from gardens, imported from far and wide and bred unscrupulously. I look patiently and hopefully at the dog homes, Facebook pages and other sources. I am morally confused by the worry that I may be taking a stolen dog, one from a puppy farm or imported for profit. And my house is small, very small, I need a suitably small dog, but not so small it has bladder control problems.

Enter Blackbird. I have not fed garden birds much before, mostly due to not wishing to serve them up to the ginger tom cat. Or my ex-cat, who was big on birding and ratting. Feeders tended to be unvisited and subsequently emptied of mouldy food, washed, and put away. But this year is different, partly because I travel far less, so I can top up feeders regularly. And that includes throwing handfuls of mealworms out for the ground feeders. 

The regular feeding brought regular visitors, including adult birds with families. Blackbird was amongst them. She has mild albinism, which apparently can result in the others victimising them. She is smaller than the other females, less fluffy, and always looks a bit scratty. But I soon became aware she is very cheeky. Frequently I would hear one ‘peep’ and would look down to find her nearby. Not at all scared by me, unless I moved suddenly. I made sure she got a fair grab of food and gradually began to protect her from the aggression from other birds. They flew off as soon as I moved, but she took no notice of me. Apart from, I am sure, a little nod of her head and eye contact as she showed her appreciation. 

It wasn’t long before she began to appear on the wall every morning when I got up, announcing her arrival with a loud fluttering of wings followed by her loud peep and a perky cocked head. When I leave the garden door open she nonchalantly hops up the step and comes looking for me.  If I tell her to get out, she poos on the floor. I am not impressed by this. She is, I think, expressing her contempt at being ignored. Like a bolchy teenager. Note – no, my children didn’t do that, in case you were wondering. 

So, finally, I shall tell you why this story is relevant to my art practice. 

Wind back about three years, when I acquired a 360 degree camera. I explored ways of working with it and one output was a series of walks made circular using special software. A selection came together as a film:  12 Circular Walks.

I could have used the 360 to make immersive environments, but soon realised that wasn’t for me. Whilst I enjoy that experience, I much prefer the real world and being in it. 

As Blackbird now trusts me, it wasn’t difficult to bribe her to do a circular walk for me, by placing the camera in the centre of a ring of food. The challenge was keeping the others away and preventing territorial fighting, in case they knocked over the camera. At one point, as I watched, the feeding birds all froze and looked up to see a huge dove about to launch off the wall. Whilst it momentarily occurred to me it would make great footage, it occurred to me simultaneously that if that dove flew down it could break my camera with one beat of a wing. So I intervened to save the day. And my camera.

Blackbird and I are rehearsing regularly now. I joked about me training her to walk in circles, but the truth is, I suspect she is training me to feed her. And she has done it very well. 

Blackbird Walking in Circles – 2021 –

It is so easy to slip into the humans-are-all-seeing-all-knowing perspective, proposing that non-humans, by their definition, are lacking what we have. But maybe it is us that is lacking? Maybe humans should be described as non-animal? But that wouldn’t work, as being ‘animal-like’ is used as a derogatory term. We need to rethink this, I’m not convinced we are worthy of holding dominance over other creatures, or, indeed, material objects. Look at the mess we have made so far.

A plump fledgling sometimes joins Blackbird and is equally unphased by me. I wonder if this is a risk, that her young might become dangerously fearless of humans? As they need to be. We are a perpetual danger to ourselves and others.

I have looked up how to hand train wild birds. I don’t feel that is wise. Being wild is important. Whilst researching blackbirds I discovered that in America keeping wild american birds in captivity is illegal. But they can keep european birds, including blackbirds as caged pets.

I feel privileged to have this trust from her, but don’t want to damage her by making her dependent on me. But she is very hard to ignore now! 

Getting a balance between the human relationship with the non-human is a tricky thing. 

The Scale of Things: Small Stone In Each Hand

I’ve been thinking about the scale of things. We talk about scale in relation to the importance of things, some things don’t matter very much, whilst others matter SO much they are ‘off the scale’. We use a scale to measure how good something is, or how bad. We also talk about scale in terms of size, whether something is small or large.

Scale is of course relational. Something is only small in comparison to something larger. We see this ambiguity in art quite often. When we view small images on the screen, or in a book, of a painting, we have no idea of scale. When we see it in real life it can be shockingly huge, or disappointingly small. Does size matter? If it does, why? One might think it matters because bigger things are often more expensive, when it comes to art. But a diamond can be tiny yet phenomenally expensive. It must be fair to say that scale is not always indicative of value.

If this is the case with art, does that mean that a small stone in my pocket is as valuable, if not more valuable than the boulder which it came from, the cliff or mountain?

When my kids were little, I used to read them the book by Janet and John Aberg about a skeleton family. I loved reading it. I loved the fact that it began in a small, dark cupboard under the stairs, in a small house, in a small village, next to a small town, part of a big country and the universe.

Sometimes we humans live in a small cupboard. We lose sense of the beyond, the other side of the door. Sometimes we feel safer that way and other times we feel constrained by the small space we are in. The pandemic has been like that.

I originally titled this text ‘stone in pocket paper in hand’. I came to my studio to draw the stone on the paper. The stone was small – it fitted neatly in my pocket. The paper in my hand could be small, or big, because paper can be folded. Stone cannot be folded by my hand.

But as I prepared to do the drawing, I absent-mindedly picked up another stone from my worktable. I held one in each hand.

Which meant I had two stones – one in my left hand, the other in my right. The paper was discarded, unmarked, on the table. As I felt the stones, turned them in my hands freely, they shared their history with me.

Some of the feelings I had were purely physical. They are different – one is rounded and the other has quite sharp fractures and edges. One has several faces of similar proportion and will sit flat on most of those faces, while the other has lots of small details, many protrusions, and broken parts. It only settles happily on three, maybe four sides, yet the smooth one settled easily on almost any plane.

On top of the sensory experience of holding these stones is the knowledge I have of the stone’s past. They have a recent history, in the time that they had been with me, and another, long before then. Like items in a museum, they have provenance. The one in my left hand came to me from Sweden, posted by Eva, a singer with an amazing voice, who allowed me to use her song in a film that I made. The film was about the River Severn, a place that is very important to me. This stone travelled across the world to my house, in a small village, in a small county. Eva found it in a stream near where she lives. That stream connects to Sigrid’s well. Sigrid was a well-known Swedish queen, mentioned in the Norse Sagas. I sent her a stone from the Severn.

Eva’s stone is clearly from a river. It’s very rounded and smooth, having travelled on its course and been buffeted and bounced along the riverbed. It has tiny cracks and crevices that my nail catches on occasionally. There are stains of different stone colours, red and black. It has, what we humans might refer to as freckles. When I rolled it in my hand it comforted me, it nestled neatly into my palm.  I rotated it gently, continuously, just as the river did before me. It has a constant sense of imminence yet possesses an ease of settling into any number of positions. Where it can be still. For a while.

Before it came through my letterbox it had been on many other journeys. Its history will likely go back millions of years, which is unimaginable to me. I know that Eva held it in her hand when she chose it, but who else may have held it? When it was larger, did some creature stand on it? Sleep on it? Nibble lichen from it, pluck moss from it? How many other stones has it rattled against on its journey to Sigrid’s well? Which continent was it originally a part of? Where are it’s connected parts that it broke away from? Is there a fossil at the heart of the stone?

Might it have been connected in some way to the stone in my other hand?

The one in my right hand is not as hard, it looks and feels dusty, though not as loose as chalk. It is mudstone, its fragility restrained by its compression. It does possess a level of hardness but is clearly less resilient to being battered than the Nordic stone is. Examine it closely and it looks like a mountain range, a micro-system of a huge swathe of landscape is held in its form. The edges are jagged and sharp. This is a broken, fractured stone, split by impact, as opposed to being rolled along a riverbed. It has come from deep strata, over 25 million years of accumulation, layered in the cliff below which I found it, on the ground.  It’s very pale grey, like the river silt of the Severn. It, too, moves in my hand, but not so freely. I need to open and close my fingers around its form to change its position, due to the ragged edges.

When I put the grey stone down on the desk to type this document, a piece broke off. I  attempted to carefully reconstruct it but it will now go forward as two pieces. It is more likely to be ground to dust than the hard stone. They have different histories and different fates.

It’s all about balance between the past and the present, the soft and the hard, and our resilience.

The scale of things doesn’t really matter. We all get ground down, eventually.

Once upon a time I felt petrified


Roughly triangular

No side longer 

Than my little finger

Hidden in hand

Tightly held

Edges smoothed by mountain stream

Bllack shadows leach from base

Residues of red indicate strata

Mere fragment 

Of larger stone






How long has it been petrified?


From soft

To hard

As a rock

Yesterday, I was told that a fragment of jelly from my retina had broken free and is now floating around creating veils of semi opaque shadows in my left eye

I was petrified


I feel boulder

Elemental Forest: 2 commissions now live – film/video makers & audio artist

In May 2021, the Forest Economic Partnership (FEP) and their project partners, Forest of Dean District Council, were successful in securing funding from Arts Council England to commission artists to create a community engagement campaign.

The project will focus public attention on how a Biosphere Reserve (BR) UNESCO designation for FoD could work here. It sets out to inform the local communities and businesses of the anticipated economic and environmental benefits of the Forest of Dean becoming a Biosphere Reserve

We shall commission two artists to engage the Forest of Dean through an artist’s film and an audio work, to stimulate discussion and debate. We seek to promote the concept of a BR widely to the general public within the Forest of Dean district by engaging the community through creative interpretation of landscape, drawing attention to place, community, culture and nature

Applications are invited from individual artists, or artist teams, that have experience of working in the public realm and an interest in environmental issues.  Carolyn Black of Flow Contemporary Arts will be supporting the team with her producer experience, providing curatorial guidance to the artists:

“I live and work in the Forest of Dean and am keen to support artists to understand this unique place. There are so many special landscape features here, and fascinating people with stories to tell about it. We all need to understand more about the potential of becoming a Biosphere Reserve – art is a powerful way to do that.”

For more information and how to apply please see further information here


Successful ACE bid to fund two new artist opportunities – coming up soon!

I’m delighted to say that Forest Economic Partnership (FEP) have succeeded in securing an Arts Council Project Grant towards a public engagement project, which sets out to inform local communities about the potential benefit of becoming an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.


I shall be working with the team as the producer/curator, to commission two creative practitioners – one to make a film/video and the other a soundwork. Each commission will be a contract for £3000.

As soon as the brief is available it will be available for download. Subscribe to Flow to be alerted when the opportunity opens. It won’t be long!

I’m also supporting artists Denman & Gould with their public art commission, alongside Project Manager Rose Farrington, for Lydney Harbour – it is great to be part of the cultural development here in the Forest of Dean.

Earth Crumbles – new film with Eva Rune, fragile rocks, timeless

earth too easily

crumbles cracks collapses

fissures fragments fall

sensing seeking solace

sing sigh saturate

place pigment paper

inscribed imbued time

tumbles traces tracks  

present presence past

return retrieve remember

earth atmosphere water

The Earth Crumbles film, and the words above, were created in response to a First Friday Walk as part of Walking The Land. Eva Rune and I first worked together when she gave me permission to use a kulning song for When You Call I Shall Come. Our working relationship has developed over the year and Eva also participates in the online Walking the Land Sessions. Our landscapes are merged by this film. The first image is the soundtrack map of the song she sings overdrawn by me – from a landscape photo of where Eva walked on the day I made the film. Synchronicity.

Every time I visit the Garden Cliff – a triassic land information – I explore it with different media. It is rock, obviously, as the cliff has been there for many million years, and when the rock-face drops pieces onto the ‘beach’ below they look like stone. But pick them up and you realise how fragile all of this is.

This rock

This cliff

This planet

The rubbings I am making with graphite putty have allowed me to take home a record of the surfaces. Photos and films help me to understand it visually, as does drawing. Holding a rick in my hand and feeling it gives another point of reference. The ease of collapse in my fingers alarmed me. I am sensing the history through the material. So many things have changed since they first formed, yet other thing are seemingly untouched.

When I heard Eva’s song my immediate thought was that it’s melancholic tone was similar to the aesthetic of my film. And that she also sense her home landscape, which is re-presented through her voice.

It is important to me that my presence, and inevitable impact, on the place, was evident. My hands, my foot, my performative actions. I am present in the film not just as me, but as all people that mark the land, erode it, inscribe it. Correspondences by Tim Ingold is currently informing my work. I love the way he writes, opening up new ways of thinking and understanding the condition of our ecology. And the part that humans play in both the making and destruction of the planet.

Please visit Vimeo to see the full film.