Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Aos Dara/Umha Aois Symposium 2020 Part II

I started writing about the Aos Dara/Umha Aois combined symposium, in which I was a participant, last week. Details of the symposium and my preparations for work can be found in that blog here. As I had the paper prepared with graphite already, I began drawing with my trusty Staedtler eraser, as per my proposal. I was glad to have some green graphite, because after being in Tomnafinnoge wood, I did not want to limit myself to dark, grey works. However, I was  very pleased with this drawing and the subtlety of the green graphite on the tree worked. I did several other drawings on graphite, which I was not happy with, so of course, I am not showing them! (They'll be binned soon enough.)

My original intention, when preparing several sheets of paper with black acrylic, was to paint images in white only. However, as I mentioned last week, the colour of the forest so impressed me that I didn't think such a minimalist approach would work. I really liked that image of the lightning tree and got out my oilsticks to do more justice to the colourful tree.

When I make collages I tend to tear the paper into shape rather than cut. This facilitates a certain amount of unexpected results in the intended shapes as well a beautiful deckled edge, showing off the original colour of the paper (in this case, a creamy white).

Another image that I repeatedly used as inspiration, was that of the small mushrooms which could be seen in networks growing from mossy, fallen tree limbs, and I even spotted a circular Faerie Ring of small mushrooms. While I definitely did not think my graphite, and black & white acrylic drawing experiments with mushrooms actually worked, the jury is still out on the collage.

The acrylic collage that I thought worked best was Saplings. I had experimented with this image several times in other media, with always problematic results, yet I kept on working on it as I really liked the image of trees and ferns that could be seen at one of the forest entrances.

I was guaranteed that one piece would be displayed in the group exhibition, but I chose two to frame as I couldn't decide whether I preferred the sombre Lightning Tree or

the colourful Saplings. I brought both of them to the gallery and said they could choose either. Happily both pieces will be in the group exhibition that launches on Culture Night 2020.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Aos Dara/Umha Aois Symposium 2020 Part I

I wrote about having my proposal accepted for this year's Aos Dara/Umha Aos combined symposium here and included some of my preparations. I saw last year's work, which I blogged about here reviewed for CIRCA Magazine here. Tomnafinnoge Wood is really beautiful! It is an old oak forest with two rivers and several paths from which to explore it.

My intention was to explore different media and while I had prepared graphite and acrylic pages in advance to work on, while I was at Tomnafinnoge Wood, I did some bark rubbings.

 I thought I might use them in planned collages, and though I didn't, they got me into the mood!

I also collected some oak leaves while I was at the forest and printed from them directly when I got home.

Using my watercolour pencils, I did some sketches from the numerous research photos I had taken during my day in the woods. There were some very strange looking mushrooms growing on trees!

There were lots of smaller mushrooms at ground level too, on fallen, mossy tree limbs, and I even found a quite large Faerie Ring, which neither me or my companions dared to trespass in! I did especially like these mycelial networks and wanted to work more with the image. I'll report more on this in next week's blog.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020


A few months ago I responded to an "open call" opportunity that was listed in Curator Space, a newsletter that provides information and opportunities for artists. Although most of these opportunities are more relevant to UK artists, some are international, and others (like this one) was online so anyone could apply. The open call was specific: artists must have a sense of humour, an interest in playing with scale, and their work must fit through the curator's letterbox. The curator of Tiny Cat Gallery is designer/artist Lisa Cole and the gallery is a cardboard box organised, invigilated and frequented by tiny plastic cats. Cole was responsible for all onsite photography and Instagram posting. She can be followed (as herself) on instagram @lisa_cole_designer and (as gallery curator)

I often make miniature work when coming up with new ideas - sketches, paintings, collages - so I looked through my own recent oeuvre to come up with a theme and suitable small work that would appear huge in the gallery. I applied for an exhibition and was accepted. My teen, who is obsessed with cats despite allergies, has a number of tiny plastic cats, so we chose one to send as an ambassador along with the work.

I sent enough work to fit on the box/gallery walls, but I forgot to take into account that one wall would not be used as a space since it was necessary for Ms Cole to access the gallery in order to take photographs for instagram posts. So Shore I and

Shore II were not actually included in the exhibition. All works, however feature on Lisa Cole's website, here.

Before I posted my package to Bristol (where the physical gallery is) I photographed the work and Ms Cole produced an invitation for the online exhibition.

The exhibition was for one week and the launch party on the Sunday afternoon was an indication of the fun that would be had with the work and the cats all week. Narratives accompanied each instagram post (at least four daily). In this one the cats are discussing the nature of "liminality" as a follow-up to their earlier dream discussion...

As my see-through cat ambassador embodied liminality, it put on a performance channelling Tilda Swinton's "The Maybe". For more information about Swinton's performance, have a peek here and here. My ambassador, Lucky, chose to perform between my two silk fibre pieces, Star Cloud and Narcissus. For more information on how I made these pieces during a Zoom papermaking workshop, have a look here.
 One of Monday's instagram posts featured Shore III and Shore IV, working well as a diptych, as well as Star Cloud and Narcissus.

Several artists from previous exhibitions at Tiny Cat Gallery had devised workshops related to their work, and I was no exception. The point of my workshop was to explore colour, shape and luminosity. I took a photo of the items needed for the workshop and posted "how-to" details on Thursday morning. Tiny Cat Gallery made a poster advert for the workshop and re-posted details for both the tiny cat visitors and for anyone following along on Instagram.

The tiny cats had some playful pre-workshop moments...

 and created their own "liminal" painting.
On the Friday, one of the posts featured Branches II & III as a diptych taking up an entire wall of the gallery. I have had both solo and group exhibitions in various countries over the past 35 years, but I can easily say this was the most fun and most engaging exhibition of my career!

Monday, 24 August 2020

life during lockdown part 4

For the month of August, I have been synopsising what I have been up to during lockdown. I have posted three other "life during lockdown" blogs here, here and here. I will return to more singularly themed blogs in September.

My exhibition, Liminal, opened at Tiny Cat Gallery earlier this week. I have to admit that the virtual launch was more fun than any of my previous "live" exhibitions. The cardboard box gallery is manned by tiny plastic cats and artist designer Lisa Cole, who is the curator of the gallery, creates elaborate and humorous narratives to go along with each of the pictures she posts.

At the beginning of the month, I attended the first of four Zoom workshops on felting. The workshops, held each Friday morning this month, are sponsored by the University of Atypical in Northern Ireland, and facilitated by artist felter, Niki Collier. I have been working in my kitchen, with my laptop perched on the cold stove. This is my set-up for the first workshop.

This month Angel City Review published two of my poems in Issue 9. This literary journal is freely downloadable from their website. Below is one of the poems, which is relevant as I type this on the eve of the fourth anniversary of my Mum's death.

I felt it in my body
Months before I knew
My mother's fatal diagnosis.
Something was wrong.

The pain grew in my foot.
From heel to ball
It would not move forward
Into the oncoming grief.
Knowing what lay ahead,
Both feet rebelled
And refused to take me there.

After the funeral
The pain in my chest grew -
A series of respiratory malfunctions,
Brochitis, tracheitis, sinusitis,
The common cold.
A plague on my house.
Constant coughing,
Chest tight, heart palpitating -
A permanent heart ache.

This grief is cellular.
Pain moves in and out,
Osmotic, changing density
Till every pore weeps.
The sadness of my body
Cannot recover that
Which is forever lost,
Yet stumbles on.

My feet still hurt.
Often I am numb.
My limp is barely perceptible
To unaware strangers
These days as I
Wheeze forward slowly
One tiny step at a time.

I was pleased to find out, at the beginning of the month, that my proposal for the Aos Dara/Umha Aois combined symposium had been accepted. For this year's symposium, due to lockdown, the organisers required that participating artists spend some time in Tomnafinnoge Wood, an old oak forest, then create work in their own studios. Culture Night in September, will see the launch of an exhibition to include some of this year's work, as well as last year's work, at the Courthouse Arts Centre in Tinahely, which is near Tomnafinnoge Wood.

The day I spent at Tomnafinnoge was perfect! It was a dry, summer day and the woods were greenly gorgeous. I found this tree, which had obviously survived a lightning strike, to be of immense inspiration.

I loved the way the tangle of branches created a net-like canopy - some shade from a very hot sun that day!

One of the main points of my proposal was to create drawings where the paper is covered by graphite and one removes the graphite with an eraser. I have always thought this was a very sculptural way of drawing.

I also prepared some pages with black acrylic as I thought I would draw with white paint on them - kind of opposite to what I planned to do with the graphite as this would be an additive method rather than subtractive.

I also did not want to ignore colour and imagined doing some collages. Normally I create collages with scraps of paper for the purpose of occasion cards, as I blogged about here, here, here and here, but I realised these scraps of paper were not exactly artist quality. To rectify this, I decided to paint, with acrylics, a number of pages with colours that I expected to use in Tomnafinnoge collages. I will dedicate a future blog to some of the results of my work!

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

life during lockdown Part 3

In July my final ceramic work was fired. For now, I am not continuing with the workshops, which have actually started up again at this point (with only two participants per class). I was pleased with this terracotta draped slab serving dish, which I had glazed with a metallic gold.

By the end of July I had finished printing the covers for my first chapbook, Home Sweet Home Goodbye. For further information on this project, you can look at previous blog posts here, here and here.

In July I responded to a call-out for artists who were interested in "perception, scale, reflective practice" and had a sense of humour. An artist/designer (Lisa Cole) in Bristol was opening a gallery for work, which would fit through her letterbox; the gallery was a well-lit, painted cardboard box manned by tiny plastic cats. My exhibition proposal was accepted and my work will be showcased on instagram for one week this month. I realised later that I sent too much work, so not all of the pieces will be included in the exhibition, but further details can be seen here and in the Tiny Cat Gallery shop, here

When I got wind of a Zoom felting workshop sponsored by Craft Northern Ireland and University of Atypical, I signed up to be included right away (as spaces were limited). There were going to be four workshops, facilitated by felter/artist Niki Collier, and they would take place every Friday morning in August. Availability to attend all four workshops was stipulated on the application form - well under lockdown I had no previous engagements! I was very excited when the big package of supplies arrived at the end of July.

Although I got my very last (for the foreseeable future) ceramics from the kiln by the end of July, I did not have time till recently, to finish off the glazing effect (crackle white glaze) by painting India ink on it.

While I was painting the final plate, I decided to re-paint the one I had done in June just to see if the crackles would be a bit darker (they were).

This is a close-up detail of the final plate done with this glazing technique. For further information on the process, I have previously blogged about it here.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

life during lockdown Part 2

Time during this lockdown is totally bizarre! Even things that happened recently seem long, long ago. I am just re-capping here a couple of highlights of May and June, and I feel like I am looking back at years ago. At the beginning of May I was happily working on some oilstick drawings in my studio, as part of the Memory Is My Homeland series and finished this piece, Kingswood Iris. I have previously blogged many times about different pieces for this series, and I have posted those links in last week's blog, which can be found here. I have specifically talked about Kingswood Iris here.

Signal Arts Centre re-opened in June so that staff could prepare for a public re-opening in July. Because of this, a number of firings were put on as there was a plethora of ceramics from the workshops that were waiting patiently since March for something to be done with them. One of the first things of mine that came out of a glaze firing, was the large glaze-painted tulip vase. Three years ago, I had meticulously painted a tulip design on a vase but the results were disastrous as what I thought was a white glaze was, in fact, a glossy white paint! The results sat idle for a number of years until I decided to revisit the vase in the New Year. I blogged about the process of reclaiming this vase here, including giving links to the initial work and failure.

In the latter half of June, I took a 2-part silk fibre paper-making workshop via zoom. I was completely unaware of this process for paper-making but loved it and could immediately see the possibilities for my future artmaking! I blogged in more detail about this workshop here.

In addition to my tulip vase (above), I also had a number of draped slab dishes come out of the kiln in June. I had glazed several of them with a crackle white glaze, the crackle in this glaze only becoming apparent after India ink is applied and rubbed off. I blogged about this process here.

Also in June, I took part in the "Grasp the Arts" campaign. The point of the campaign, for me, was to highlight the role of artists in society's general mental well-being. Many art practitioners, in the widest sense, have lost work and opportunities during the lockdown. An under-acknowledged field of work, the arts are the mainstay of civilisation and survival and it is during lockdown that people have turned to the arts for entertainment - through binge-watching tv shows, streamed music, fb & instagram music &  poetry gigs, theatre, opera, literature, etc - to mentally survive this crisis. I discuss this campaign further here.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

life during lockdown... Part 1

My teenager keeps saying to me "nothing has really changed for you" as I have generally continued with my my work in"business as usual" mode during this entire period of lockdown. Although I have missed the more social aspects of my life especially friends and my time at the weekly ceramics workshop at Signal Arts Centre, I have found myself to be continuously busy with my art & writing, keeping in touch with people by telephone, Zoom, letter, email, Whatsapp and Skype. Perhaps I could even be accused of being more diligent at maintaining social contacts!

But shortly after lockdown started in March, I finally decided it was a good time to self-publish my first chapbook of poems. The first step to doing this was the founding of Precariat Press. After a brainstorming session, my husband, artist James Hayes designed a logo for me. And so it began! I have blogged about this previously here.

In April, I was inspired by Austin Kleon's Instagram account; he was making daily zines and I wanted to know how to make them. Kleon and a number of other bookbinders who have posted on YouTube have given really simple instructions for zines that can be made, with folding and tearing (or cutting) from a standard page. I did my own experiments with larger pages and heavier materials and blogged about it here. For a zine with more pages, simply glue two or more together!

Every year I participate in the annual incognito fundraiser for the Jack & Jill Children's Foundation. Due to Covid19 this year, the fundraiser was solely online. Normally images are made available for perusal on the incognito website, and then they are shown over a 3 day period at a Dublin gallery in April. This year there was also going to be an exhibition at a Cork gallery in May. Instead, a way to both see and buy the work online was made available. The artworks are all postcard sized and cost the same amount (€50) with the name of the artist only being revealed to the buyer after payment is made. I think the Dublin offering sold out within 15 minutes. I had two pieces in the Dublin exhibition (a detail of one being on the farthest left row, second from top).

One of my pieces (I donated three) was in the Cork show, which I believe also sold out quite quickly. My collage is second from left, second row down. I have blogged about previous incognito fundraisers here, here, here, and here.

In May I did the compositional sketch, which I will have as a reference when working on another large painting, Knockeen, as part of my current series Memory Is My Homeland. I have blogged about the origins and previous work in this series here, here, here, here, here,  and here.

I was, of course, simultaneously working on the lino design for the cover of my poetry chapbook, which would be titled Home Sweet Home Goodbye. The design is based on a childhood farewell card I made for my grandparents when they were returning to Ireland after their first visit to Canada (where I was born and grew up). I did several blogs about the design origins and progress of the linoprint here, here and here.

While in lockdown, as well as making work, I continued to browse for "virtual" opportunities. I found it quite interesting that submitting images to exhibitions taking place on the likes of Instagram made it possible to submit internationally. I submitted an image of Room Mate, a recent work from the Memory Is My Homeland series to an Instagram exhibition open call for work created during lockdown which responded to certain words. I have blogged about this oilstick drawing here and here. It will be featured in the Do It Yourway Instagram exhibition on August 14. The words that I feel the work responds to are "hard", "soft", and "reflect". Certainly my reasons for those words are apparent when I blogged about the piece here.

I have also continued to submit written work in answer to specific calls or open reading periods. Dwell Time is a mental health organisation in the UK and they put out a call for written and/or visual work in response to the lockdown. As I had specifically written several poems on this theme, I fired them off and they were published both on the Dwell Time website and its FaceBook page. I subsequently posted them on my own social media pages. Here is one of the three.

In addition to writing, making artwork, virtually socialising and reading I have been totally enjoying virtual music gigs (John Otway, Josh Ritter, Lisa Hannigan), concert film streaming premieres (Iggy Pop, New Order, Nick Cave), poetry readings (Hollie McNish), theatre (The National Theatre UK, The Druid Theatre IRL, The Abbey IRL, and Stratford Festival Canada) and opera (The Met NYC). Early on in lockdown a friend sent me a link to someone who had posted links to education, sports, business resources, health and entertainment. This was extremely helpful and alerted me to many things which are being made available, at no charge, to help keep people sane during this trying time. That is how I was alerted to free streams of first-class theatre and opera. For me the most amazing event I was lucky to see was The Met's production of Philip Glass's opera Akhnaten. It was phenomenal and indescribable and for me, something that I never would have had the chance to experience if there hadn't been this lockdown!