Print-making at Open Studios Cornwall

I recently left the hubbub and noise and chaos of London for a slice of peace down by the sea in Cornwall. Though I’ll still travel all over for acting and puppetry work, this is the place I will be calling home for the foreseeable future.

Ink print of a large leaf on paperAs luck would have it, during my first few weeks in Cornwall I had the opportunity to take a peek in some local artists’ studios and take part in a print-making workshop as part of Open Studios Cornwall. Driving down perilously narrow, windy country lanes after all that city driving ripped my nerves to shreds, but it was worth it for the glimpse of different artists’ creative lives. Chatting to each artist about their work was a real privilege, discovering personal stories reflected in how each person responds to the world around them through their creations.

Several of the artists taking part in this year’s Open Studios Cornwall also offered workshops (for a fee), covering everything from bookbinding to creative writing, stained glass to ceramics, Chinese calligraphy to botanical illustration. I wanted to take part in at least ten, but with a limited budget from the cost of moving house I had to pick just one, so I went for Mono Printing Using Natural Objects with artist Pam Furby.

Ink print of several smaller leaves on paper

The workshop provided a wonderful two hours to immerse ourselves in being creative and forget about the rest of the world. We started by wandering round Pam’s beautiful garden choosing natural objects we wanted to work with, then headed up to her little studio to have a go at printing with our finds. I mostly gathered leaves of various shapes and sizes, as I wanted to explore how their intricate veiny patterns would come out in the ink. The prints were just as beautiful and interesting as I had hoped, and a small feather also made for a lovely print.

The table in the artist's studio covered in piles of leaves, inks, papers and plastic boards.

I began by rolling out a small amount of ink on to a plastic board with a little roller, then pressed the leaf down into the ink, veiny side down (so that the side with the most interesting pattern or texture was face-down). I then peeled the leaf off and placed it on to the piece of paper I wanted to print on to, placed another piece on top, creating a leaf sandwich, then pressed down firmly so that the leaf left an inky print. Pam also had an ink press that we could use to give a more even pressure than our hands could.

A brown and black ink print of a small leaf on paper.Having never worked with ink in this way before it was very much trial and error for most of us, just having a go and having fun. As we became more confident using the ink and developed a sense of what patterns and effects we liked, some of us experimented with different colours, mixtures of colours, and different arrangements of our objects on the page. I found that often the second print using the ink-covered leaf would make a clearer picture than the first, which contained too much ink – less was more! When initially pressing the object into the ink we used a piece of newspaper so our fingers didn’t become covered in ink, and the ‘negatives’ this produced on the newspaper were often interesting pictures in their own right.

I love the prints I created during the workshop and one or two might even make it up on the wall! The next step is to experiment with different amounts of ink and pressure until I can capture as much of the delicate veins of the leaf as possible. Then I can move on to the next object, whatever that may be!

Advertisements

Surviving Actors 2016

A range of workshops and seminars at a decent price, the chance to network with other actors, and a room full of exhibitors including headshot photographers, showreel producers and part-time employers. Yes, I’m talking about Surviving Actors, an event run by actors, for actors.

A few Saturdays ago I headed to the Radisson Blu Hotel near Marble Arch for Surviving Actors London 2016. I went to the event last year while I was still doing my training at East 15 Acting School and found it inspiring and useful, so hoped this year would be too.

I attended seminars on how to think like a casting director, surviving in the theatre, and how to land an on-screen role. All were interesting and insightful, particularly the session with the beautifully honest Brian Astbury and Shane Dempsey. The two spoke the simple truth about a life in the theatre: it’s hard, plain and simple, but it can also be supremely rewarding. Their advice was to the point, their insights on the profession intriguing, and their approach honest and unfaltering. I won’t say brutally honest, because I’m sure all of us in that room understood how challenging it can be to keep going in this industry, so these honest words should have come as no surprise.

Listening to both Brian and Shane speak, rather than feeling deflated about the industry, I felt inspired. They both spoke of the importance of doing your own work – that’s the way to do the work you want to do and care about. This is an ethos that underpins the training at East 15, a school both Brian and Shane have a connection with, so it’s ingrained in my approach to my career and the work itself.

In between seminars I wandered round the exhibitors’ room, chatting with people here and there, picking up a few freebies and buying a few acting books. I was also delighted to bump into some of my fellow E15ers, Madeleine Dunne, Helena Devereux and Vicky Winning. After spending a year training with these guys I miss not seeing them every day!

Like last year, I really enjoyed the event and it was interesting to see how I found it a year on, having finished my training.

 

 

Wilderness FarmFest with InterAct Wales

In a house by a river in Wales something is happening. People are gathering round a campfire sharing poems and songs, making minions out of clay, creating shadow puppets and mosaics, and wading through the river with sticks. These people are InterAct Wales and their guests at this year’s Wilderness FarmFest.

The festival is still in its infancy but hopes over the next few years to welcome more and more creative folk to this remote part of North Wales, to spend a blissful weekend creating, making, sharing and having fun. I headed up there last Friday with my boyfriend Alex, invited by my friend Helena, company member of InterAct Wales and fellow actor who trained with me at East 15.

IMG_4059

After an evening spent drinking wine outside in the hot tub under the stars, Saturday morning kicked off with a clay modeling workshop. I love clay. I really love clay. I also love the Minions, so when Helena’s brother Kieran showed us how to make Minions out of clay I was in creative heaven. I was also surprised to find out that the key is to make your basic shape out of tinfoil first, then layer the clay on top of this. Who would have known! (Well, any art teacher I suppose, but they didn’t teach that at my school!)

The second workshop of the day was led by Helena’s mother, Viv (yes, it is a family business). InterAct Wales has recently been doing work in schools, teaching the children to make little mosaics, so we were treated to tubs full of colourful tiles to choose from and let loose with the PVA glue. Viv taught us how to safely use the tile cutters (wear goggles at all times!), so we could cut tiles down to size to fit in those pesky gaps. The next morning we grouted the mosaics then stood back to admire our creations. Not one mosaic was the same. It was fascinating to see all the different ideas and techniques – how there could be so much creativity in one room of people. A web developer who spends his day sat in front of a computer, Alex would normally never have the opportunity or even the inclination to make something like this, but he seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, and his sun/flower mosaic was beautiful.

The creative fingers were given a break after lunch when Helena’s dad, Bill, took us for a river walk. I’m not a huge fan of rivers – not since I got stuck in one on a school adventure day aged 12 and had to be rescued – so the thought of wading through one didn’t exactly fill me with glee. However, I gave it a go and I’m so glad I did. Armed with sticks to test the depth and a pair of borrowed wellies, we made our way down the river in single file, Bill leading the way. He pointed out otter prints, guided us around deeper water, and got us safe and sound, if a bit soggy, back to base. It was a brilliant experience.

12022561_10153215244751247_4962072958197209323_o

In our final workshop, on Sunday morning, we made shadow pictures and animations with Amie Taylor, actor and all-round creative. The pictures were beautiful, and it was great fun watching our short animations. It’s definitely inspired me to try and make a longer one. Interestingly, the first person to finish their picture and animation was the only child in the group. Where we all took a while thinking up some fantastic idea then wanted to get it perfect, she just went for it, and ended up making the longest and most interesting animation of all of them! I think we can learn a lot from children about taking creative risks.

My favourite part of the whole weekend (obviously apart from the clay) was Saturday evening. Near the house was a bridge across the river, and over this, a little area down some steps where Helena and her family had strung up fairy lights, lit a fire and laid out some mattresses to sit on. After a BBQ for dinner we filled our glasses, huddled together, and shared poems, stories we had written, songs, monologues and music. There was a flat area we used as a stage, which I stepped onto clutching a short story I wrote a while ago called The Penny, and a little book of poems my sister made for me. I read a poem she’d written called Familiar Stranger, which I felt fitting for the occasion. It was a very special evening, and inspiring to witness other people’s talent and creativity.

We were sad to leave Wales on Sunday, but after such a wonderful weekend I now have new friends, new creative connections, and am feeling inspired to make and do more. I can’t wait to come back here again next year…

Creating Balance with Anglepoise

I’ve never had a particular fascination with lamps. Yes, they can look nice and I appreciate there are various different designs to suit different tastes, but essentially they’re a rather practical thing. You switch it on so you can see better. So when I heard (rather later than everyone else in Portsmouth, it seems) that Anglepoise was teaming up with Strong Island and the University of Portsmouth (UoP) for a creative project called Creating Balance, I must admit I didn’t jump in the air with excitement.

Creating Balance 5

An iconic British brand, Anglepoise is famous for its instantly recognisable lamps. Think of a traditional desk lamp, and you’re most likely thinking of the shape of an Anglepoise lamp. They’re practical yet pleasing in an aesthetic way, as well as energy efficient.

When I first met with Paul Gonella of Strong Island back in the Autumn to discuss joining their team of local writers for the website, I noticed a pile of brochures showcasing the Creating Balance Project, and thus my interest was piqued.

They had taken a simple, everyday object – the lamp – and captured it in a whole new light. If you’re in Portsmouth then do look out for one of these A5 booklets, as they’re full of awesome photography and a lot of lamp action! Just flicking through the pages makes you realise how many creative spirits there are on our little island (Portsmouth’s on an island, don’t you know!), and how much talent this creative community has.

The Creating Balance project, organised by photographer and UoP lecturer Claire Sambrook, twinned 10 artists with 10 local photographers and gave them an Anglepoise lamp (or several) to play with. According to the brochure, “the aim was to explore the true meaning of balance at work and in life and to document its significance in the creative process”.

I work at the University of Portsmouth, where the new part of Eldon Building, which houses the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, has just opened. It includes a ground-floor exhibition space, which is currently home to several art installations, including a seemingly uniform cluster of Anglepoise lamps.

I say seemingly, because as you get closer to the display, you start to notice all the little discrepancies and variations in positioning – a little lower here, a fraction higher there. Portsmouth people can wander down to Eldon Building and take a look, and I believe the newly-opened coffee shop there is also open to the public. If you’re in the area and want to see more of the exhibition, pop down to the Aspex Gallery in Gunwharf Quays from now until 2nd March.

I took a few shots of the installation in the Eldon Building (see above), called Changing Faces, which complements and connects to the Creating Balance project. I tried to give a sense of the almost mesmerizing quality of it. However, please bear in mind I’m no photographer, and was using an iPhone 4S! I’d like to say they’re in circles because I thought it would be in keeping with the circular heads of the lamps, but in reality I’ve just discovered how to make an image gallery in WordPress and am working my way through the different display options with far too much enthusiasm.

There’s something about the light…

Last weekend we went to Cornwall to stay in a little cottage and forget about the world for a few days. I’d only been to Cornwall once before but had instantly fallen in love with it, and the place I returned to last week had all the mystical beauty I remembered from my visit the previous summer.

IMG_1340

One thing that particularly struck me, apart from the rugged beauty and charm, was the light. There’s something about the light in this little corner of the world that makes everything seem a little bit other-worldly, and bathes the fields and hills in a kind of mysticism. I could be getting lost in my over-active imagination here, but I’m sure many of you who have been down to this part of the country will know what I mean.

It was the perfect setting for a weekend of relaxation, the odd walk along the headland, and sitting curled up in a cosy armchair by the wood burner, going over my lines. You’d be surprised the places where an actor can steal the odd five minutes here and there to run through lines – the loo is a particular favourite, especially if you’re in for the long haul – but of course a setting that inspires you can give that little bit of extra motivation to plough on and remind you of the freedom you will feel once you’ve got the lines sorted.

With the light slanting in through the window and the fields reaching off into the distance, I felt the essence of the words coming from my mouth and I was lost for a special moment in the world of Pride and Prejudice and the magic of Jane Austen.

This rhino is a work of art

When a piece of art has a sign telling you it’s a piece of art, the timeless question of ‘what is art?’ raises its complicated head. If you have to tell people that something is art, then is it really art? Do we have the right to say what is art (and what isn’t)?

I was in Southampton a few weeks ago when I came across a multi-coloured rhino sculpture in the city centre. The piece stood out so brilliantly against the grey buildings and roads that I had to stop and take a closer look. Just across the road I found another rhino, this one bottle green in colour. Below each sculpture was a plaque reading: This rhino is a work of art. This made me chuckle a little at the irony of actually pointing out that something is a work of art, but when I later typed ‘rhino sculptures in Southampton’ into Google the use of these words made a lot more sense.

Multi-coloured Go! Rhino

The rhino sculptures are part of a public art event called ‘Go! Rhinos’, a project bringing art to the streets of Southampton and highlighting the conservation threat faced by the wild rhino. The project is led by Marwell Zoo, in collaboration with Wild in Art, Business Solent and Southampton City Council. For ten weeks between July and September a collection of colourful rhino sculptures went on display in the streets and parks of the city. The large rhinos were painted by artists and sponsored by local businesses, and the smaller rhinos were decorated by local schools, colleges and community groups. The necessity for a plaque proclaiming each rhino as a work of art thus makes sense. It’s partly to point out that these quirky little fellas are not in fact to be used by any passing child as a climbing frame, and also to highlight the Go! Rhinos project itself, and the use of creativity and the local art scene to bring attention to important conservation issues.

Green Go! Rhino

The day I came across the two rhinos was actually the last day they were on show. The next chance to see all of the rhinos will be the Rhinotastic Event at Marwell Zoo from 10–14 October. The event will include rhino talks where the public can learn more about the rhinos at the zoo, the chance to see the winning sculpture of the ‘Design a Rhino’ competition, and a raffle to win a blank Go! Rhinos sculpture. There will also be a charity fundraising auction on 30 October at the Grand Harbour Hotel, Southampton. All proceeds from the sale of the rhinos will go to Marwell Wildlife, The Rose Road Association and Wessex Heartbeat’s High 5 Appeal.

So, should you really have to tell people that something is a work of art? If it looks like a rhino, the answer is yes!