Paul Nash, Monster Field

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‘There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed.’ —Paul Nash, Outline, 1949

I went to see the Paul Nash exhibition at the Tate Britain. It was an overwhelming show. A huge collection of his works including watercolours, engravings, large oil paintings, collages, illustrations and poetry from his varied career. I wasn’t overly familiar with his work before attending, though I’d perhaps seen a few of his more famous surrealist paintings.

I didn’t know that he was a war artist in both World Wars. That he began his career as an illustrator. That he took a major role in organising the International Surrealist Exhibition in London 1936. I’m very keen to get my hands on his autobiography and learn more about him, but for now I wanted to share a couple of the pieces from the show that chimed with me.

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Nash felt a strong connection to certain places. In 1938 he discovered ‘Monster Field’ a place where large fallen trees seemed to him to resemble beast-like creatures. He enjoyed returning there, though in a letter from the time he wrote that he had trouble remembering exactly how to find it. It seems to me he enjoyed the atmosphere of this field and those tree-creatures. They inspired him and he documented them in photos and a series of paintings. The branches reach out like tentacles and jagged shards of bark look like teeth.

I can relate to Nash’s Monster Field, some places have something very evocative about them. I have my own spots that can make me feel blissfully happy and serene, others that creep me up or that I feel strangely tied to though I can’t always explain why.

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The other piece I particularly enjoyed ‘Swanage’ (1936) is a collage composed of photographs from Nash’s collection of found objects. Along with his fellow artist and friend Eileen Agar, they would place unusual objects together to create new and surreal encounters between them. Which they would then photograph, draw and paint. I love the muted colours in this piece. The shapes and forms, shadows and details that create an alien landscape.

Swanage c.1936 by Paul Nash 1889-1946
The Paul Nash exhibition is running at the Tate Britain from 26th October – 5th March
Tickets approx £15

Colour Studies

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Here are a couple of little colour studies I’ve made as part of my research kick off for my next project with The Drawn Chorus. Super excited to be collaborating with them again! I call these colour studies…though I’m not sure if that is the technical term for them. The idea was to quickly and freely get down a range of colours and compositions to help me loosen up and get inspired around their exhibition theme. The first is a still from a Tomb Raider game, the second a campfire on a snowy mountain. More on that in the coming months!

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Lettering

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I’ve started reading ‘Pen Lettering’ by calligrapher Ann Camp with a view to improving my understanding of letter forms and (hopefully) upping my skills when it comes to wielding them.

Through my various stints of creative education and now working as a freelance designer, I’ve picked up basic knowledge and skills for lettering and typography. I can comfortably choose typefaces and lay out text in a pleasing way, but often when I attempt to hand-draw letters, I can come unstuck. So I decide it was time for a booster.

The first few pages of Ann Camp’s 1958 introduction to lettering were illuminating. She explains concepts such as the spacing between letters, teaching that this should not be worked out mechanically because of their varying shapes. For example, letters made of upright strokes should have more spacing between them than letters made of curved strokes, which should sit closer together. The aim being to keep the white spacing between letters optically proportionate at all times.  Whilst I have always aimed for good spacing in my designs, I have never really learned about the theory or logic behind it.

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…After the first few pages, she introduces some exercises, and that’s when things got HARD! I had to re-read her task explanation at least 5 times and apply a tonne of brainpower before I could properly get to work. In steps reminiscent of the ‘How to Draw an Owl’ meme (see below), she asks you to essentially rule out lines and copy the skeleton alphabet.

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I’ve persevered. So far just practicing the lower case, the next step is upper case and then using both cases to form some words. The skeleton alphabet helps beginners to understand the basic form and characteristics of letters, before moving on to more complex stuff.

A sneaky peak ahead has shown me that the next exercise involves double bound pencils and what looks like first steps of calligraphy, so i’m keen to get there. I find it can be difficult to keep up self initiated challenges such as this one, where the results aren’t always instantaneous or glamorous. But I’ll stick with it for now and see where it takes me!

Rocket

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I recently had the pleasure of illustrating a poem called ‘Rocket’. Written by Joseph J Clark, it is one of 14 poems about drinking that together form his small batch poetry book ‘Drunk With A Pen’. Each poem, illustrated by a different local artist, is a story and explores the complex relationship with alcohol and drinking that many of us have. (The cover illustration shown below is by the talented Rosa Carbó-Mascarell)

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An entertaining and thought provoking companion to any tipple, look out for your copy in various pubs dotted around the city. All proceeds from the book are donated to local charities including The Clock Tower Sanctuary which supports young, homeless people in Brighton and Hove. Cheers!

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year! I’ve just been for my first outdoor sketch trip of 2017 to Birling Gap. A beautiful sunny day, though super chilly. So nice to get outdoors and tramp around for a bit. We stopped high up on a bench to draw a view of the cliffs and stripy red lighthouse, then headed back down to the beach to watch the sunset over the sea with our cheese and pickle sandwiches. I managed to drop my entire chalk pastel collection, twice :/ need to get a tin for them I think!

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Wilmington Expedition

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Back in January my Mum and I spent three days in a cabin in Sussex exploring and drawing on the downs! We stocked up on hearty winter foods; soups, crusty bread and cheese. We packed our warmest clothes our sketchbooks, paper and drawing materials and set off for the hills.

Hailing from Newhaven, my Mum has always felt a strong connection to this part of the world and has been drawn to the mysterious Long Man of Wilmington, something that she has passed on to me. There is definitely something about the place. An ancient chalk figure etched into the hillside, being able to see way out across the land, rolling greenery and patchwork fields. The feeling of being high up and catching glimpses of the silvery sea.

It was late afternoon when we set out on our first sketch-pedition. We walked up the chalky track that runs alongside the Long Man. Though icy cold, the sun was shining brightly, setting everything ablaze. It was hard going clambering up the steep track in our skiwear whilst juggling our drawing equipment and we quickly overheated. Underfoot, beautiful frosty patterns had formed in the chalk, the ice wrenching the track apart and churning up the ground.

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At the top, spectacular views across the valleys. The sun seemed to hook into you and draw you out of your winter shell. I always get a primitive feeling when I’m there. My inner cave girl rises up! I felt like I could have been a horse in a previous life as I had the urge to gallop and jump around. I wanted to look at all the plants and flints. Examine every bit of sheep’s wool caught on thorny bushes. Mum stood next to a large metal gate and discovered it was singing a strange melody as the wind blew through the tiny holes in its metal surface.

We made quick sketches. I thought about all the artists who have been inspired by the landscape over the years and the beautiful works they have created. Scruffy pencil marks, etchings, layers and textures. I found it quite difficult to draw the sparse landscape, but the feeling of calm that came from getting totally lost in the moment and absorbed by the surroundings was amazing.

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The cabin itself was our refuge from the cold. Lighting fires in the wood-burning stove became my job. A good little fire would quickly warm the small room and give off a lovely smoky smell. In the evenings we cooked our meals, settled into the comfy chairs with hot chocolate and dissected our drawings. Our soundtrack was Arch Garrison’s album ‘I Will Be a Pilgrim’ a beautiful piece of music with lyrics mirroring our experience of enjoying the wild, chalky land.

 

We spent two days like this, waking early, making crumpets then setting out to the hills. Drawing, getting cold, coming back to warm up and refuel, then setting out again. Collapsing into our beds at the end of the day, feeling that we’d earned our rest.

On the last day, it snowed. It had fallen quite thickly in the night and we woke to a silent, white world. The Long Man was lost in the freezing clouds of fog. We sat on the cabin porch and drew the view in front of us, our breath freezing in the air. We set out on a different route that day, the snow had completely changed the views and we had to stop every few minutes to photograph and gawp at how different it looked. The white contrasted against the dark sky and enhanced the many lines and furrows that cut across the landscape. They seemed to carve it up, scars on the surface of the world.

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We arrived at a little church and entered the graveyard. A giant, ancient tree was at its centre, reinforced by heavy planks of wood and bound by thick iron chains in an attempt to keep it together. Most of the snow had burned off by midday as we made it to the top. It was difficult to work on a drawing too long because of the cold but we put the effort in and both make sketches we were pleased with.

I enjoyed treading on the frozen puddles. Carefully displacing my weight a little at a time and watching the splinters and shards form in the ice until, with a squeaking sound, they give way and the brown muddy water gushes up to greet your wellies!

It was such a special weekend. Making drawing the focus of the trip meant that we really made time for it. If we saw something we wanted to sketch, we could change our plans to fit around it, something that isn’t always practical on a more usual sort of holiday. Being outside in January despite the cold made me very happy too. Shutting ourselves away from the modern world and keeping things simple. We definitely want to go back again next year!

On this trip we stayed at Jackson’s Cabin in Polegate, hosted by the lovely Alison.