Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Adventures with Alice

"Let's get together again" we said.

We had loved the four day Summer School with Alice Fox and didn't want this time to come to an end. And so I suggested a house that we could hire and lured Alice with the thought of being on an island. Luckily it worked, but because of Alice's heavy work schedule we had to be patient... so it was eighteen long months later that we headed out across the causeway. 

 There was beautiful daffodils to welcome us...

And cosy chairs around the log fire.

And it's here our adventure began.
Alice called it: 'Personal and collaborative responses to landscape'.

We called it magical.

We were surrounded by a wide expanse of marsh and mudflats, and a horizon that stretches forever. Alice had warned us that much of our time will be spent outdoors, what ever the weather. And so we had come prepared with waterproofs and thermal layers; most of which remained unpacked because the weather took a turn and blessed us with clear blue skies. We were glad of our jackets and hats though, as there was a chill to the breeze and this would be felt when we sat quietly observing, sketching, or writing. Alice encouraged us to spend time alone, to use this time to explore our creativity and sense of connection. And we all welcomed this permission. Because while it is good to have company and to spend time with friends, it is a different kind of experience, alone.

After exploring and unpacking (done in that order for some of us!) we met back at the house for dinner. That was when we discovered
another talent of Alice's. Her home cooked meals became a highlight of the day, and quick trips back to the house for tea were just an excuse for a slice of homemade cake that would make a master baker proud! I was excited to have this time and opportunity to work with Alice again and I had not given much thought to meals. These turned out to be understated and Alice got it absolutely right in her choice and menu. We felt very well looked after, and this added to the weekend's memory and experience. Our first day ended with Alice showing us examples of her work. I was inspired and buzzing with ideas and went to bed fully sated, excited for a new day to begin.  

Some of us got up early to wander the island before breakfast. Ideas were already bubbling, and inspired by Alice's mark making I tried not to use my camera as my automatic way of recording. Instead I folded a piece of A3 card, with the idea of making a book of my walk. I set off with the card folded in one hand and a graphite stick in the other. They made contact as I walked along the sea wall.

Frequently I ventured off to explore the marsh.

This landscape might look bleak and dull, but look close and you find hidden surprises.

As a photographer it is hard not to frame and shoot.  But I wanted to push myself outside my comfort zone and to try something different; so I used Alice's encouragement to make marks. I sketched, did rubbings, and sometimes sat to write down my thoughts and observations....

Back at the house I added colour to some of these.
This book is still work in progress, but shows some of the recordings I made on this early morning walk.

The next photo shows my meandering; the marks made with graphite stick held against the card. Their random, uneven lines are a
response to my unsteady footsteps as I explored the sea wall and marsh. I love this irregular shape that captured time and place. But what I discovered, when I unfolded the card at the end of my walk both surprised and intrigued me, and it still does. 
You see, to make it easy to draw, I walked with the card folded into a thick wedge. I started at the house and marked this with a X. I did not plan or even think about where I was going with this idea, it was just an unconscious piece of work that was experimental and fun. While I drew I looked where I walked - this was important if I was to keep myself safe. The mud is deep and potentially dangerous, especially as I was on my own. Each time I came to the end of a fold I turned the card and continued it onto the next page. 

Why was I surprised and intrigued?

Because without any intention or plan, my marks ended exactly where they began. I had no way of seeing what came on the page before or after, as the card was folded for the whole walk. If the mark had ended at a different edge I would have flipped the card over to continue. I could have ended with a blank space, or with my mark somewhere else completely different on the A3 sheet. I was surprised to find my mark back where it started. Just like my walk.

 A  cut across the centre fold meant I could make a simple book structure. Inside you get a glimpse of my rubbings and sketches.

This had started out as an experiment, just to satisfy my excitement and eagerness to get started. I was already bursting with ideas but after breakfast Alice planned to talk about what our time together would look like.
I'd better tell you about that next time!


  1. Fascinating. I have done similar mark making walks with Shelley Rhodes

  2. Sounds like a wonderful experience. I've just recently been reading about mark-making and am fascinated by the way you incorporated it into your walks, and your finished project. Looking forward to hearing more about it.

  3. Wow...such a stunning setting obviously inspired you. I can hear your enjoyment in your writing. Now I can't wait to hear what came next..

  4. What a beautiful place and setting - and it clearly inspired and whispered to you ... How fascinating about the marks on your page! Looking forward to the next instalment :).


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