Inspiration and the elephant in the room

I’ve missed a week, I started with good intentions of a weekly blog but the elephant happened and I’ll get to that later.

We had a field trip with college to Bristol, we visited the usual art places Spike Island, M Shed, Arolfini and the Bristol Museum.  The idea being to collect reference material for our latest topic “Edges and Overlaps”.  It was nice actually visiting the art exhibitions rather than online virtual experiences, in my opinion experiencing some of the larger art installations in person is the only way to do them justice.

The Vanguard, Bristol Street Art was by far one of the most interesting exhibitions I’ve seen in a long time. I learnt so much about the origins of the whole street art scene and how it has grown and developed over the years. I first moved to Bristol in the mid/late 80’s and feel that I’ve only recently, in the past 20yrs fully appreciated it. So I loved learning more filling the gaps in my understanding and education about what is literally on my doorstep. One artist stood out for me Antony Micallef and I am definitely going to research him further. It felt that it didn’t matter what angle I looked at his painting from, it was lifting out the canvas and very real.

The Vanguard Exhibition M Shed Bristol

As we wandered around the various galleries and museums, I realised that I am drawn to pieces of work that have shapes, colours and texture that resonate with me on a deeper level. In the museum I found myself really admiring the pottery and sculptures.

At Spike Island they had two exhibitors, Lucy Stein and Peggy Ahwesh. I found that some of Lucy Stein’s pieces of work I could take or leave but her large art installation “wet room” and a couple of her other pieces really connected with me on a deeper level. The colours she used and the fact that she references local folklore and mythologies intrigued my spiritual side.

And now for the elephant in the room Peggy Ahwesh, her work Vision Machines was extremely interesting, and in hindsight I should’ve listened to the nagging voice that I’d seen her work before and not to see the films behind the curtain. But nope, I’m with the rest of my class and in fact I’d got lost in the cgi of Vision Machines so entered the room part way through “The Scary Movie”, bizarrely at the same point I walked out of a screening of it in London a number of years ago. Fate trying to tell me something? I don’t know but this movie is the reason I couldn’t write a blog because I had to process how it affected me. I wasn’t prepared for the trauma response it triggered in me. It’s a very dark and disturbing take on gender roles, and exploitation of feminism, through two children acting out a horror movie. It was made around 1993 and I have to give Peggy a lot of credit for how cleverly she tackles these long standing societal issues. However, there are other taboo subjects that this film touches on, like the exploitation of children and the sexualisation of innocent games. The music score, sound effects and final editing were very cleverly done. As much I tried to watch with objectivity, as a parent of a young child I found it difficult to ignore the underlying messages, and as a survivor of abuse I found myself stuck in the past.

A lot of creatives use their chosen mediums to talk about, or highlight what is important to them, or want us to join them on journeys, through words, music, and pictures. Most of the time as onlookers we like what we see and hear, we love the escapism of Tolkien and Dahli, and the moments captured on canvas and film. I feel we shouldn’t ignore or dismiss the storytellers when the subject matter disturbs us in some way. We should be asking ourselves why? What is it that we are uncomfortable with? What, if anything can we do to change either our response, or the story…… How can we mold the future?

On that note, I will leave you with my photo of Lucy Stein’s “wet room” there really is something very peaceful about it.

It started with a boat called “Progress”

When we were given “Cause and Effect” as a project title, I panicked at some of the phrases in the briefing. I could almost hear my mind whirring as my thought processes started working overtime. It is such a wide subject that I could have taken it in absolutely any direction. The field trip to Uphill Boat Yard helped consolidate it all for me. As I looked around I could see the changes that had taken place over time. I noticed a boat called “Progress” and the idea formed about how we were all affected by progress and the effects on the surrounding landscapes, people and wildlife. Looking around I could see the discarded and forgotten boats, those being lovingly restored, those bobbing on moorings, and how the past present and future were all intertwined.

Reviewing my sketches and photographs I still wasn’t sure how to reproduce my ideas. I wanted to layer the images somehow incorporating the present and past using both photography and artwork. I also wanted to take on board creating with other pieces of equipment like sponges, pallet knives and fingers using charcoal and paints. After researching the global impact of progress I determined that I wanted it to be more local and my work to show how nature has reclaimed the space in places to live alongside the working marina.

I’ve learned that Uphill Wharf and Marina has quite a rich history. It is now predominately a leisure marina and part of the nature reserve, although it is still home to a working boat yard.

I feel that the original concept I was trying to portray is reflected in the artwork I’ve produced. Although accept you may need to see some of my original reference images to understand a couple of the smaller pieces eg, the blue and orange patina of the rusty boat hulls. I feel that the presentation of the four smaller pieces on the plinth helps convey the story in a very simple format, which compliments the brief of using a limited pallet.

With the large monochrome piece of work from an objective view point, although I do really love it, I feel this is the one piece that has most room for improvement. Had I thought more about the placement of the sections I could have used the negative space, leading lines and light placement far more cohesively. That way the eye of the onlooker could have been drawn into the work more effectively rather than to one side.

In my final piece I had greater success in layering and showing depth to the history, by using a clear sheet of acrylic and painting both sides, along with acetone photographs and using natural light to look through. I am also really pleased with the structural element of the final piece and how it invites you to view from different perspectives. I wish I had made more of the blue from the reclaimed fibre glass boat as it gets a little lost. Creating the structure was possibly the most complex part, how could I make it a stand alone piece of work? The end result was created by utilising the reclaimed fibre glass bit of boat, and cable tieing some off cuts of wood together. Depending on your view it looks like a mast or sail. All along I was going to display in front of a light box, but found that the softer natural light was just as effective. I see this piece as a light feature in a home, standing in front of huge picture windows during the day and having a soft uplight behind it in the evenings.

For my project I wish I had been braver and entered the working boat yard and asked permission to photograph them repairing a boat as that part of the wharf’s story isn’t shown. I need to work on trusting my instincts more and not getting too concerned about what I think the expectations are. I need to be brave and experiment more.

I am pleased with the outcomes, not only with the work that I have produced, but also how I am starting to develop my own creative process. It is starting to be a little more structured and a little less haphazard. I feel that the structure and developing curiosity are allowing me to be more intuitive with my work, and the knowledge and skills that are being added are enabling my process to flow. My research started on a global scale and I am so pleased that on a smaller more local scale I have been able to portray cause and effect. From estuary mudflats, thriving port and quarry, back to a leisure marina and nature reserve. There is still room for improvement on my approach to large projects and I feel that is going to be part of my own cause and effect journey throughout this Diploma.

Progress at Uphill

Cause and Effect

That’s the first two weeks of College overwith. It has been quite an interesting learning curve, not least because an old dinosaur like me is being dragged into the modern age as creating this blog is part of the course and a way to record our work on line.

The first week was mainly about mark making and creating drawings without using paint brushes and pens with our hands. We also had a trip to Uphill Boat Yard, we had a brief to make quick sketches of what we see, take photographs and collect any items that we may wish to use in our project. As someone who likes to spend hours on a sketch, the quick jotting down of several was a bit of an eye opener and whilst these early ones are not worthy of a spot in the Tate, I achieved the task.

In the second week we had two creative exercises to complete relating to cause and effect. Whilst at the boat yard I stopped to sketch by a boat called Progress, and it just made me think about how we are all caught in this net of progress and the effects it has on the things that fall by the wayside and get left behind. Therefore saw a lot of broken boats and parts of the yard that have been discarded and reclaimed by nature. Not least the cliff face that was created when there was a thriving lime quarry there, there are sections that amongst the discarded litter and face masks left by visitors to the nature reserve, you could find buddliahs and sunflowers, butterflies and bees and birdsong was prevalent. I wanted to capture this in the pieces I created, the large monochrome piece and the four smaller pieces using a limited colour pallet. I like using negative space, colour and fluid loose movements to achieve this, apart from the sunflower, all are mixed media and created without using a brush. The materials used were household emulsion, card, charcoal, acrylic paints and vynil sticky paper, and photographs I’d taken. The tools were my fingers, sponges and plastic cutlery.

Artists that influence my current style and who inspire me both past and present fall across a number of schools, Pre-Raphaelite, expressionism, symbolist and also the ones who are so realistic the detail in form and texture are things I can only aspire to recreate at this point. I have a print by Franz Rusicka at home and that definitely inspired my composition of the larger piece, my use of the blue is definitely inspired by Franz Marc the German expressionist and a British artist I’ve recently started to follow Dan Bullock. I aspire to be able to create realistic imagery like Tina Spratt and I’ve just found Jukka Mompa who mixes realism with bold abstract colours. Links to there websites are:


In my final piece I wish to show the story of the Wharf as it progressed through time. It was originally wetlands and mud flats that formed part of the estuary. At one time it was a thriving port where people came to trade cargos like coal, salt and timber. Besides the quarry and lime kiln, Uphill was also home to brickworks and fishing boats. It’s still home to a working boatyard, but has a seasonal influx of holiday makers who stay at the campsite. It’s a regular route for cyclists and dog walkers as the nature reserve now links with other coastal paths to Brean.

Whilst researching the cause and effects of progress globally, I came across this trailer for a digital exhibition by Canadian photographer Edward Burtinsky encapsulating the effect of progress on the landscapes around us over his 40 year career. Our little corner of Somerset may not be on the same scale but the effects are there to see and the landscape certainly bears witness to its history.

Welcome to my blog….

I’m Helen.  I’m an art student.  This blog is a way to record my UAL Foundation Diploma in Art and Design that I am studying at Weston College.   I’m actually pretty rubbish at keeping journals and I’m not great with technology, you can ask my long suffering husband how that goes!   I’m not very good at promoting myself or my art…   mmmm lots of negatives here, lets see if I can rectify that.  I am passionate about horses, my art, dogs, my son (maybe he should’ve come first?), photography, I love music and being outside in nature.

Walking, riding, or just being outside with the horses and the sense of peace and self they give me are the best parts of my day and hiding in my studio (I nabbed the summerhouse as my creative space during lockdown), are the best ways to unwind from everything.   In these moments, I can forget I’m a daughter, mother, wife and just be me.

The past 18 months have seen big changes in how many of us work, go to school, interact with others etc, for me it gave me time to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life and going back to College has been a big change.  I’m looking forward to exploring and developing my creative style over the next year as part of the course and sharing it here.