Posts Tagged ‘seasonal work’

In the cauld blast

January 25, 2012

Burns’ Night is to many of us the great winter feast, an occasion to celebrate not only the life and works of the Immortal Bard, but to reinforce a worldwide sense of community embodied in his songs and poetry.  For the last few years I’ve been making a series of artist’s books as contemporary illuminated manuscripts, taking as a theme the turning year and the dance of the seasons, and Burns’ poetry has been a great inspiration.

Seasons Dancing is a concertina book that opens out to form a standing circle, a continuous double-sided ring of words nearly 5 metres in circumference, with a flowing, lilting circle of lines from Burns’ poems evoking each month page by page and joined at the turn of the year, flowing onward like a sound wavelength, following the cycle of the year – regular, repeating, ever new; it folds down to a manageable largish book.

Burns’ Year: Love and Freedom is in the form of four books, one for each season.

Each of the four books is made from a single sheet of handmade paper (at 2 metres x 80cm, some of the largest handmade paper in the world, made in India by Khadi Papers), torn and folded into a sequence of pages, but readily reformed to its whole state, unfolded and opened out to spread before you this sacred space open to all, like a magic carpet that transports you to another time and place, but which you can also fold up and carry about with you – the essence of ‘book’, in fact.

In the four books that make up Love & Freedom: Burns’ Year, some of Burns’ ideas about inequality, oppression and dispossession (‘how things are shar’d’), his profound sense of home and exile, and his awareness of the solace of love are bought together by means of his characteristic association of radical politics and the consolations of Nature (‘free alike to all’).

Themes of fragmentation, dispersal and restoration/reconstruction are present not only within the texts and the form of the books, but also within the materials and making processes: like the threads of a woven plaid, the flocculating molecules of the clay body, the fragments and scraps of paper pulp reform to a unity in the great sheet; like the bricks in a wall, or the parts of a musical score, the individual elements are reconstructed to wholeness.

Each book follows on from the one before, as do the seasons. In Winter Wild, the dispersal of autumn hardens into a solid state, in a setting of Burns’ poem O, wert Thou in the Cauld Blast, mapped and contained by the plaid (based on the Lennox tartan, to reference the tune for which Burns wrote this song, Lenox love to Blantyre). The fragments come together and resolve to a paradoxical equilibrium, the icy wind countered by the protecting plaid – a rather slight defence, we may feel, but time- honoured.  Here is the book, page by page:

As you’ll have seen, I’ve worked with fine thin colours, an icy silver grey and some delicate threads of wintry sunlight, the small marks defining the threads of the plaid made with the same driftwood twig that I used for the lettering. I’ve aimed to use the colours to reflect and respond to the colour and mood of each line, each word of the text, as one would in setting a text to music. To balance the different colours of the text both phrase by phrase and within the overall whole image is very important for how the book works in its dual character.

The colour palette of the four books is essentially the same, concentrated or diffused in tone according to the season’s particular light, and with a characteristic hue added for each season: silvery grey for winter, golden yellow for spring, azure for summer and russet for autumn. This colour is highlighted on the individual slipcase for each book, with its linen draw-tabs, and brought together in the box which houses the four books.

I’ll be describing each book in detail as the seasons turn throughout this year, as well as showing some more pages of the months from Seasons Dancing.

Both Seasons Dancing and Love & Freedom: Burns’ Year are now part of the National Library of Scotland‘s collection of artists’ books.


August 2, 2011

August was to John Clare a pivot of the year, as the harvest drew a concerted effort from everyone in the rural community, and the ‘bustling day’ took precedence over everything else – until it was done, and time to celebrate. This large serving dish from the Shepherds Calendar dinner service is a centrepiece of the plate rack, with its warm appetising colours and the beautiful text. Here’s the back:

Though we’d rather like to hang out in the sunshine (now some’s finally here) throughout August, it’s going to be rather a busy month for us too, as we’re taking some of this year’s harvest to Edinburgh. My partner Frances will be reading from her acclaimed new novel The Principle of Camouflage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where it is also an entry for the Festival’s Newton First Book Award – and as it has also been suggested as a possible contender for the Guardian First Book Award this year, it’s receiving a lot of attention for a book from a small publisher. Frances is also reading in the Festival’s Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers series, from the work of Nizametdin Akhmetov, a Bashkir poet.

On the same trip, we’ll also be delivering some of my work to the National Library of Scotland; I’m very proud to say that the NLS is acquiring three of my artist’s books, Season’s Dancing (with text by Robert Burns), Love and Freedom: Burns’ Year (a group of four books, one for each season), and Light Music (from a text by Margaret Tait).

This is the August page from Seasons Dancing, a concertina book made from 24 sheets of handmade paper (A3) which opens out to a continuous circle joining December and January, and celebrating the cyclic dance of the seasons with fragments from Burns’ poems.

The ring of months is double sided, so that as it stands opened out, you can see the months in sequence on the front, and inside, the rhythmic flow of the turning seasons:

The outer pages are painted and collaged month by month, and the pages on the inner side are made with handmade papers in different colours for the flow of the seasons, with Burns’ text dancing round:

Here you can see the December page (And O for the joys of a long winter night) linked to January (That merry day the year begins) – and so on round the year.

Round and round the seasons go

This year I’ve been working on a series of contemporary illuminated manuscripts reflecting the passing of time and the turning year. The largest works (so far) are the group of four books that make up Love and Freedom: Burns’ Year which will also be in the NLS collection; these four books are each made from a single huge sheet of handmade paper, torn and folded into a sequence of pages, but possible to restore to the whole sheet again, like a magic carpet that transports you to another time and place, but which you can also fold up and carry about with you – the essence of ‘book’, in fact. I’ll be writing more about the ideas behind these books (and showing how they look) in September; meanwhile you can see Light Music with its luminous text from Margaret Tait’s film Colour Poems in a page by page sequence in a Work in Focus post – click here.

If you’d like more information about any of my work, please leave me a note in the comments box below, or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

The turning year

January 5, 2011

This year, my Work in Focus posts will be monthly, including some of my current work and some from my archive. Much of my work is seasonal – or rather I enjoy responding to the changing light and the feel of the turning year – and I’ll be showing some progressing series of work, as we go along. In 1993 I made a dinner service, setting texts from John Clare’s A Shepherds Calendar with a plate or bowl for each month, and I’ll be starting the monthly features with his apposite observations.

I’ve already begun work on one of my major plans for this year: a series of Books of Hours, or contemporary illuminated manuscripts, setting different texts that explore the turning year in individually handmade, lettered and decorated books. I’ll be showing several of these in the coming months and discussing some of the processes, ideas and problems. I’m planning works on several different scales from small to very large, but the first in the series is a small concertina book made with handmade paper, setting a medieval latin text by Boethius in a beautiful translation by Helen Waddell. It’s called The flowering year.

The concertina book opens out to a full stretch of about 4 foot long, so it will stand along a shelf. The economical text conveys the feel of each season so accurately that it seems possible to experience the whole year in this short length, or the turn of a few pages, and the rainy winter page feels very right for today. I must work on a bit more snow.

Among the first of my Books of Hours, I’ve also made a one-elephant book, from a single sheet of handmade paper torn and folded to form the sequence of pages: it’s called The turning year, and the text is my own.

The whole sheet looks like this:

And like this, once torn and folded:

I’m planning some books in quite different formats, and some on a large scale, so I look forward to showing them as they progress.

Of course, midwinter’s a good time to be making pots too (warming work), and Helen Waddell’s translations from Latin texts have also provided inspiration there. On this large dish I’ve set her rendering of a text by Marbod of Rennes, which combines an encouraging glimpse of Spring with a little seasonal festivity:

For more information about any of my work, please leave me a note in the comment box below, or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

Winter is come

December 2, 2010

In this snowy week, I’ve been making an artist’s book setting a text from John Clare’s evocative poem Snow storm, called In another land. It’s made from one sheet of handmade paper, painted, lettered, torn and folded into a sequence of 6 double pages. I’ll show it to you page by page, and then describe the making process.

In considering the setting of a text for these books, it’s important to me that the overall design of the whole page should work as well as the individual pages – and that means bearing in mind that the book is turned as the reader reads, making the text on some pages upside-down and some sideways to the main overall image. With this text, I first folded the paper, then painted a snowy scene with sky, hills, and a winter tree overhanging a frozen path or stream with snow-mounded hedges:

Then I added the lettering (with its snowy burthen), following the cycle of the pages starting from top left:

Then, when this was dry, I painted and lettered the covers (in the right place) on the other side, and when those were dry, I tore the paper into the sequence of pages:

then folded the pages into sequence:

then I put it in my patent book-press:

Opened out, the finished work looks like this:

For more information about In another world, my other one-elephant books or any of my work, please leave me a note in the comments box below, or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

Autumn trees

November 19, 2010

I’ve been enjoying sweeping the leaves in the yard, gathering them in a golden heap for the recycling collection, then sifting through them and choosing ‘good’ ones to press – trouble is, they’re all good, the more ragged and marked the better.

I very much enjoy seasonal work, responding to the movement of the year and the changing light. I’m starting work on a series of artist’s books – or perhaps illuminated manuscripts – called Books of Hours, reflecting the turning year and the cycle of the seasons; I’ll be talking more about the work in this series at the turn of the year. Meanwhile, I’ve just made another One Elephant book called Circle of light:

The book is made from a single sheet of handmade paper, torn and folded into a spiral to make the continuous sequence of pages. Here, the paper I’ve chosen is a very pale gold cotton-rag paper, rather soft, which gives a glowing ground for the painted spiral of light and the luminous text by Jeni Couzyn:

I’ll show you the book page by page:

The method of tearing and folding is shown in some pictures on the Bookworks page; Circle of light torn and folded, looks like this:

For more information about Circle of light or any of my work, please leave me a note in the comment box below, or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

Bank Holiday Weekend Clouds

May 30, 2010

Taking a brief break from Dunkirk, we watched Oh what a lovely war and as usual I got Maggie Smith’s song on the brain. So I made this little elephant, which was certainly an accurate depiction of last bank holiday, but I hope won’t affect this one too badly.

The half-elephant sheet before it was torn and folded looked like this:

And once torn and folded like this:

(It’s blowing a gale now…)