I have just spent a lovely two weeks in Buck’s Mills in north Devon. It is a small fishing hamlet accessed by a long and steep track down a wooded valley to a small beach with the remains of lime kilns and huge boulders and pebbles that mark this area.
We had no phone or internet and in our stunningly pretty but dark George’s Cottage, it was like being cocooned and wrapped in nature. I had to sew outside or on my bedroom windowsill as the light was so poor, but being in a place with no sounds except the birds and a tumbling brook at the side of the private track was amazing. It’s something you don’t find very often. In fact, we did nod off on the front lawn a couple of times like a pair of ol’ duffers.
I had given myself a rule to take nothing away that needed completing or becoming a ‘something’. I was determined I was just going to play – I’m such a completer/finisher just playing has been one of my biggest challenges. I deliberately took a very small sketchbook to potter in, and amazed both myself and Him Indoors with how much of my studio I could get packed into a couple of boxes. I also took Gwen Headley’s ‘Drawn to Stitch’ and other books to read. It has been good to read about the way other artists personalise the design process at the same time as having my own theme to work with. You are reminded of ideas and things you just forget about.
I soon became smitten by the rocks and boulders of this area. There are some truly amazing formations which are made from the siltstone and shale which have eroded faster than the sandstone (I read this on a poster!)
I got interested in a small patch of rock containing long horizontal undulating lines, crisp shattered areas and patches containing white quartz veins. This became the source of many visits and about a million photos. I have since discovered that rocks can trick you – they are not always the colours they seem on the surface. Broken pebbles have revealed some interesting facts.
Him Indoors is very patient. He is used to suddenly finding he is talking to himself on our walks as the wife has stopped again to photograph something interesting or pick something up. Don’t mention lichen to him – he will start twitching. He behaves like a normal adult, reading his book somewhere on the beach whilst I walk about the stinky seaweed lines looking for ‘found objects’. I know you understand this compulsion to wander the lines of detritus on any given beach but he has now perfected the ‘I don’t know this woman, I have never seen her before in my life look’. I don’t take it personally.
I have found that having my own interest to follow in my cocoon has enabled me to build on all the things we did in Experimental Textiles last year. I just ‘get it’ a bit more. I have found myself using black and white to explore patterns and shapes first, just playing with stitch in responding to prints and building on my love of certain colours and tones.
I got to thinking that pebbles are rather like people…
Some stand out in the crowd
Some hide behind others
Some are plain but hide colour within
Some flaunt their good looks
Some you choose
Some you discard
Some you treasure
Some you forget
Some let you walk all over them
Some unbalance you
Some are given in love
Some are used in anger
Some feel just right
Some are dull
Some are warm
Some are cold
Some are full of surprises
Some are disappointing
Some never move
Some just roll with the tide
I found the sun coming through the window onto the sewn lines of the top image which was rather nice…
I have really cherished this time away but the main things I will take away from my cocoon-time reading and playing are:
• Work with a small theme or interest that you love
• Value the playing – it’s the fun bit and will focus you later
• Experiment with all the possibilities you can think of
• Move towards making selected choices of materials and processes that best represent your theme
• Move from the literal to the abstract as you distil the essence of what you want to get across
Like lots of others, I really enjoy looking through the sketchbooks of other people, but if I’m honest I have always felt impeded by the need to have mine somehow look ‘good’. Maybe this is normal but it’s silly really as it isn’t the purpose. Nonetheless, I do feel many of us struggle with this especially if we are likely to share our books. Perhaps the main thing is to decide what you want it to be, from the book that is a piece of art itself to the place in which to mess and muddle. Even that’s not easy! I feel I have developed the things I like to work with so my new little book does give me pleasure to look at, and it does look vaguley like my perception of a ‘proper’ sketchbook, but more importantly it now contains a memory and a personal process that is reaI. I still struggle with tearing out the ‘bad’ pages and having it look a certain way, but I’m getting better slowly. (Yes, I have only shown you certain pages, so I’m not healed yet!). I don’t know if any of this will be developed into a resolved ‘something’ – I do have a few design ideas but I can honestly say I did what I set out to do which became playing ‘rock, paper, scissors’.
Finally, after twelve days of doing all this and suddenly thinking I can’t look at another rock again, I packed everything away then felt lost without something to do so I got it all out again printed a huge pile of wild plants to make into cards or canvases. Olive green, yellow ochre, black and indigo ruled.
I hope you will feel encouraged that stumbling along is a perfectly acceptable way to travel. I train others on the importance of play and exploration for young children, but we forget that it is just as important for our own adult wellbeing. That and a good nap in the countryside.