What a year!
This time last year, I was full of the naïve hope that I would be able to go as normal when it comes to keeping up with the social media aspect of my business, as well as working and studying a full-time art course. Evidently not. Therefore we have so much to catch up on and I am so excited to reveal the projects I have poured all of my energy and time into over the past year; and to let you in on some things to come. Grab a cup of tea and a goodie and let's catch up ✨🫖🍰
So first things first: College.
As of Thursday, my first year at college has now come to an end. Deadlines met, grades received and a hectic end of year show accomplished. I've loved the past 10 months and the challenges its brought, but I must admit my brain is feeling thoroughly rung out now.
The HNC year of an Art and Design course is full of classes to give a taster of different courses in the art schools. There was everything from printmaking and mixed media, life drawing, digital media, experimental jewellery and art history. Some classes were, of course, a bit more of a challenge than others. All-in-all, though, I have enjoyed getting to experiment with so many different creative medias that I otherwise would never have had the chance to and, until going to college, had never even heard of or thought about! I pushed myself to my creative limits to see what I was capable of coming up with and making - it's been hard work but incredibly rewarding and exciting to find out. At the beginning of the year we were asked to choose a theme that we could relate to as we progressed through the course in most, if not all, of our classes. In my own life I am something of a forager and I love to document the process from watching the plants reawaken in the early spring right through to the late autumn harvest and preserving craft. I think it's a beautiful journey through the year and so I chose that to be my theme - to follow a forager through the year and explore their connection with the land. Thanks to this being a hobby and interest of mine I had endless source material to work from to fill my sketchbooks and still make some interesting final pieces. A quote from the Landed podcast where they were discussing the Gaelic word dùthchas summed up what I wanted to study and capture quite well..
“[On her knowledge of Lichen dyes] I know more about the biology of the lichen than my grandparents knew, but their knowledge was more intense than mine. They knew exactly what time of year to go and pick it. They knew what would happen if you picked this one or if went up that hill and got that one, why it was better than the other. Although their knowledge wasn’t what we would call strictly ‘academic’, it was very, very cultural, and very precious, and very important. And so that is what dùthchas is."
- Alice Starmore, on the concept of Dùthchas and connection to your heritage land. Excerpt from the Landed Podcast, Farmerama Radio, July 2021
One brief we were given was to create a Triptych which communicates the theme of transformation. A triptych is a three-fold piece of art usually comprised of three panels of art which correlate or as a continuous image over said three panels. I decided for my triptych to be a bit different to the usual 3 panels and instead create an installation. This would incorporate three forms of art: a traditional painting, digital media, and installation of both tools and organic materials integral to the forager’s work. My idea was that the combination of these three components creates a sensory experience for the viewer; evoking memories and thought about our place in, and need for, the natural world as well as this concept I was beginning to explore of dùthchas.
Initially, my plan was to have a painting which could be viewed through the jars whilst a soundscape played. This idea grew until I brought in the posies of fresh herbs to hang to dry to add in the smell element for the viewer as well as an extra transformation for the brief. Once everything was set up, my lecturer brought up the inclusion of projected footage of the jam making process which we had discussed early in the planning stages. After a bit of experimentation I was able to make a video loop which projects through the jars onto the painting and brings the whole piece to life.
I wanted to make something partially interactive that can be viewed from different angles around the room and draws the viewer in. I think I was successful in that! The final installation was very much a labour of love from its conception to final set up and I had to draw on resources and experiences gained from pretty much every class I had this year to put it together - which was really a nice thing to do and felt like not just the final for one class, but a fitting finale to the year.
So here it is - The Foragers Journey Triptych:
Another of our bigger units this year was the creative process which was a fairly continuous class through both semesters beginning with printmaking and mixed media techniques in the first semester, then putting those learned skills to use to make final pieces in the second. Working with a sketchbook was fairly new to me, the kind of thing I worked on back at school didn't have the same structure to it and was just filled with homework assignments. I tried to keep my sketchbook following the progression of the year rather than workshop-by-workshop so the book is full to bursting with every page being very varied in the media used. This class was one I really enjoyed as we used techniques I'd never heard of, let alone had the opportunity to try! The printmaking technique I fell in love with was Collagraph.
For my print final I made triple layer collagraph prints. The process is a long one and took about five weeks as I only had two hours a week in that class. I made three plates with similar scenes of a preserving pan surrounded by blossom, flowers, leaves and stems of edible plants. Each plate was slightly different which meant as I inked each plate with different colours and printed them on top of each other it creates a beautifully layered final print.
The mixed media finals I desiggned reflected the way I had followed the seasons and used a lot of organic materials in my sketchbook. I took four pieces of fabric, two of which are old, stained muslins I used for straining jellies etc and represented the seasons by staining them in the colours I associate with each season, as well as seasonal plants and associated creatures. In keeping with the sensory experience I had been looking at in the graded unit, each was scented with essential oils or spices/ dried herbs that I think of for each season and, as they are hung from foraged braches, they sway and move in the breeze.
Green Man Grandpa
In the first semester we had an illustrative portrait brief in which I turned my grandfather into a fairytale-esque Green Man figure. Whilst working on it I emailed my Grandpa back and forth letting him know my ideas and along the way we discussed his poetry he has written over the
years. I was inspired so much by the words he has written I asked to include them in my work, not only in his portrait but in other pieces. Some chosen lines of his various poems are hidden in the mixed media panels above. Completed in watercolours, my Green Man Grandpa portrait has several details hidden in the painting which make up much of what he loves in life. His jungle of a back garden features a large pond which, during my childhood, was teeming with frogs. I loved spotting them and was always excited when he brought a jar of tadpoles for us to look at when he visited our house. Some of those frogs are hidden around him along with some of his beloved garden birds using him as a quiet perch. The background is a scene of a viewpoint in argyll where his family roots are tied, as well as the summit in the back being the one of the last munros he climbed in 2005 at around 74 years old.. Around the frame are some of those lines from his poems I mentioned earlier. The original plan was to have them faded into the portrait itself, but there was a bit too much going on in there already, so a frame seemed a good alternative.
So that's an overview of the big projects I was most excited about this year; but there was so much packed in that I am still reeling that I managed to create and make so many things in such a short amount of time. I found a passion for life drawing and took night classes at the start of 2022 after we had a taster of it in semester 1. There's something so relaxing about the evening classes with the gentle music and chatter and letting shapes and forms emerge with the charcoal or paint. The digital media and experimental jewellery classes challenged me most as they were far outside my comfort zone knowledge and experience-wise. Even still, both of those classes have taught me skills I have already to put to use - especially with the triptych set up. In the digital class I worked on a darker more supernatural theme using a dear (and long-suffering) friend of mine to be my actress - I owe you many coffees, Bethan! And similarly, in the jewellery class where we worked on upcycling household materials and turning them into 'wearable art,' I was greatly over-ambitious and decided to make a dragon out of old drink cans which turned from ear-cuff-shoulder-piece to brooch as I slowly felt myself descending into madness trying to make it work..
So yes, though I'm feeling a sense of pride in my achievements, I am also feeling somewhat drained now and very much looking forward to a summer of restocking reference images and getting ready for HND projects in the autumn. As I said to my lecturers at the end of the year, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of my theme of foraging and dùthchas and can't wait to explore it further and see what else my brain and crafty handies can come up with!
Ruth Gibson Artwork 2022
As for my out of college work, it's been a stretch trying to find the time and energy for working on my original pieces whilst at college. My nose has been so hard to the grindstone I've barely been able to think about it! Since completing the year, however, I've already started working on a beautiful barn owl I've had in the works for a while so I'm excited to have him finished and show him to you!
Currently I have two pieces in an exhibition down in the Electric Brae gallery on the breathtaking Croy shore. The wildlife and nature exhibit is open weekends throughout June from 12-4 and has a lovely variety of artists.
A nice little change for me this weekend was working at the local Primary School Fayre where, along with a little stall of my prints, I worked with some of the kids to draw some seaside creatures (along with the occasional spider man) and have a little colouring-in competition. I had so much fun with these budding little artists! There's something inspiring about the colours and free way of drawing young children have - who cares about lines when your seagull wants a purple mohawk?!
Coming up next, my entries have been sent away for the return of the North Ayrshire Open Arts Exhibtion in July so cross your fingers for me! Some new print stockists are on the horizon also so keep an eye out for updates on that.. In September the Annual Accord Exhibiton in Paisley have asked me back and this year I will also be taking part in their Mystery Canvas competition! I have a couple of ideas in mind for what I'll do for that but more on that later.... Lastly, some new original pieces will be coming up soon. There are more owls to come, but also some special requests I have received recently and some wildlife encounters of my own have got my inspired to get my pencils out and get back to my easel. So look out for all these exciting updates and I hope everyone enjoys a relaxing summer of fun !✨
Well if you have made it this far I want to thank you so much for taking the time to read about my year! It's been exciting, challenging and so enjoyable for me. Even though I am going to enjoy the break, I am feeling so inspired by what I've learned and the challenges I overcame, but mostly by where I can go with the themes I am exploring in my personal art journey hopefully into art school in a years time.. I hope you'll stick around for the journey as I can't wait to share it with you!