Tag Archives: FIRE Lab

What’s That When It’s At Home?

24 Nov

I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for decades, just getting on with it, doing my art, mostly sketchbooks from reality, life drawing and printmaking, while working with marginalised people – the homeless and the drug and alcohol dependent. As far as I was concerned, these were not two different things, but are inter-dependent. When people asked what I did, it took ages to explain. Now, apparently, I’m a socially engaged artist. So there we are.

Afghan refugee children

It isn’t just about how I integrate living as an artist with working with people at the edge of society – it also informs the artwork I do. For example, I made this monotype (above) from my first visit to Pakistan over a decade ago now. It was a relatively peaceful period and we were visiting the Khyber Pass and I was inspired by Afghan refugees travelling back to their homes.

walking to greenham

In my sketchbooks, I draw from real life, both the ordinary that’s around me every day and the special events like demonstrations and meetings. Here’s a drawing I did on the march to commemorate Greenham Common back last year.

Here Be Dragons small

Sometimes my work is directly political, like “Here Be Dragons” that was commissioned last year by Sky Arts TV channel.

Flag final

And the flag of Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd designed for the AUOB Cymru marches.

b

Recently, I’ve become an artist-in-residence and researcher in the FIRE Laboratory in Swansea University’s Department of Bioscience, working at the interface between art and environmental science.

Or I just draw people getting on with their lives on the streets of Swansea….

 

So when people ask what I do, now I say “I’m a socially engaged artist” and they go “So what’s that when it’s at home then?”

 

And it takes ages to explain …..

Brain vs Eye

15 Oct

Zoo lab 3

The Skull On The Wall

I spent an hour sketching in the Zoology Museum at Swansea University this evening. There was this big skull high up on the wall, with HUGE horns. I have no idea what it is, I was so engrossed that I didn’t think to find out it’s name. I started with a quick warm-up sketch, using the blind continuous line technique, looking at the subject rather than the paper and keeping my pen on the paper at all times.

 

Zoo lab 2

 

Drastic!

It was mounted high on the wall so I pulled a chair under it and drew it from below, an unusual angle and one that would give me a bit of a challenge. Well, that was an understatement! The thing is that our brains adjust what we see all the time. The brain often overrides the eyes, making us see what we think we see, not necessarily what’s there in front of us. Especially with some drastic foreshortening like I had here. It was tough to draw, I had to keep telling myself “draw what’s there, not what you think is there”.

 

Zoo lab 1

Apart from the crazy foreshortening, I had trouble drawing the bit where the skull joins the horn so I did a little study of that bit, to analyse and understand it.

 

 

I’m currently artist in residence with the FIRE Laboratory in the Department of Bioscience at Swansea University. It’s great to have access to facilities like this little museum.

Scientific Stars Of Wales

19 Sep

Ser Cymru

 

I spent a day in Cardiff with colleagues from the FIRE Lab. We had a stand at the Sêr Cymru celebration, all about the scientific research projects in universities across Wales funded by the Sêr Cymru research and development programme. It was fascinating to hear about how much high level technological research is going on in this little country of ours. As the team’s artist-in-residence, I did a printmaking demo on our stall, using a vinyl block I had cut based on a drawing I did of a stream bed up in the Brecon Beacons a couple of months ago when I was on a field trip.

 

The Grey Mare

18 Sep

Horsehead 2

 

Here’s another view of the horse skull I drew yesterday evening at the little Zoology Museum at Swansea University’s Wallace Building. The Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) tradition in South Wales centres around a horse skull, which is made into a lifesize puppet and decorated with flowers, bells and ribbons. It’s paraded around on the night of Hen Galan – the Old New Year – as part of a ritual that goes back thousands of years to the ancient Celtic horse goddess Epona, also know as Rhiannon in Wales.

 

 

Drawing A Horse’s Head

17 Sep

Horsehead 1

I spent a great hour or so down at the Zoology Museum in The Wallace Building on the Swansea University Singleton campus this evening. A drawing group meets there twice a month to make the most of the specimens tucked away. I fancied studying a horse’s skull, to tie in with my previous work with the Mari Lwyd. It was nice to draw a still one that wasn’t carousing all over the place. I used a biro pen in the continuous line method with a wash of home-made walnut ink into a small, A6, sketchbook.

 

 

Old School OHP

16 Sep

acetates 1

 

I’ve been posting about the field trips I went on recently with colleagues from Swansea University’s FIRE Lab, walking the path of the River Tawe and making cyanotypes along the way. Mostly we made photograms – photographic prints made directly from found objects placed on the paper. But we also took some time out to draw onto Over Head Projector (OHP) acetates with various drawing materials to make transparencies to expose back at Swansea Print Workshop‘s Ultraviolet Unit. Younger readers might not know what an Overhead Projector is. It’s proper old school. These days we’d use a Powerpoint presentation, a laptop and a projector. Back in the day, we drew or printed our material onto an OHP acetate and it was projected onto a screen from an Over Head Projector.

The picture shows the transparencies on the UV Unit, ready to be exposed.

 

 

 

While I’m Away …..

11 Sep

sketch 4

 

Here’s a couple of ‘blind contour’ sketches I did recently on a field trip to Craig-y-Nos with colleagues from the FIRE Lab. I did the sketches without looking at the paper and without taking my conté crayon off the paper. Forces me to focus on what’s absolutely essential and gives the linework a lot of life and dynamism.

 

The FIRE Laboratory

I am currently artist in residence with The Fire Laboratory  at Swansea University and have been going on field trips with scientific colleagues along the course of The River Tawe.

While I’m Away….

10 Sep

sketch 3

 

Another of my quick sketches from my field trip with FIRE Lab colleagues a couple of weeks ago. I like doing these very quick sketchbook studies, they’re dynamic because I have to work so fast.

 

The FIRE Laboratory

I am currently artist in residence with The Fire Laboratory  at Swansea University and have been going on field trips with scientific colleagues along the course of The River Tawe.

Studying Shrimp

8 Sep

sketch 2

 

Alongside making cyanotypes with my colleagues on a recent field trip, I also did some drawings. Here’s one at Craig-y-Nos in conté crayons – black, white and sanguine into an A4 sketchbook made from brown parcel paper. It took about 3 minutes and I did it mostly without looking at the paper. It forced me to focus on the essentials in the drawing. Steph and Joelle are looking at shrimp in the River Tawe.

 

The FIRE Laboratory

I am currently artist in residence with The Fire Laboratory  at Swansea University and have been going on field trips with scientific colleagues along the course of The River Tawe.

A Roundup Of The Blue Field Trip

6 Sep

Out In The Field

Last week I went on a couple of FIRE Lab field trips with colleagues Steph and Joelle to walk the River Tawe Path, making cyanotypes, or blueprints, along the way. I’d prepared Bockingford paper with a solution of two chemicals, Ammonium ferric citrate and Potassium ferricyanide, in a darkroom and took them with me in a light-proof bag to prevent fogging. On the first day we exposed objects against the paper in brilliant sunshine for 10 minutes but on the overcast and rainy day 2, I upped the exposure time to 20 minutes.

 

 

Historic Process

Cyanotype was one of the earliest forms of photography, invented by Sir John Herschel the Astronomer Royal in 1842. It was quickly adopted by botanists;  Anna Atkins used it to record botanical specimens and produced the first photographic book in 1843 using cyanotype. Before long it was superseded by other more reliable forms of photography but was still used to produce blueprints for engineers. Nowadays it’s very popular in fine art printmaking and alternative photography. The exposed papers are developed simply in cold water with a dash of vinegar, keeping the water flowing for the first five minutes or so.

 

 

Using What’s There

We used plants alongside the riverbank, rubbish found along the path, and gravel from the water’s edge to construct our compositions, mostly holding the objects in place with sheets of glass or larger stones. Some of the digital photographs of the compositions in situ are as lovely as the finished prints.

 

 

SciArt

I’ve always acknowledged the close links between science, technology and art and since I’ve been artist in residence with the FIRE Lab team I’ve been able to put this into practice in a structured way. This collaboration between science, art and design in FIRE Lab is part of the growing SciArt movement that started about half a century ago, back in the 1960’s, when some engineers and artists in the USA got together and started working on interdisciplinary projects that became known as SciArt. Then it all sort of fizzled out …

Fast forward a quarter century to the UK in the mid ‘90s and SciArt resurfaced with the Wellcome Trust, which funded a decade of research projects to see what happened when medical scientists and artists work together. It was good! Since then, there have been more and more scientific research projects across British universities that include an artist as part of the team.

 

 

Seasonal Visits

As well as producing some interesting works of art, the cyanotypes are also useful for recording the rubbish we found polluting the river and the land around it in a way that is more evocative than a photograph and which might resonate with people because they’re such lovely images. We’ll be walking the Tawe every season for the next couple of years, trying out different art techniques each time. On the first field trip in May 2019 we did ‘walk and draw’ and then cyanotype at the end of August. Next season we’ll be into early Winter so we’re going to do some land art  …… watch this space ….

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