Progress of my study into the growing and collecting of plants during World War One and the aftermath that ensued, has been diverse, covering many streams of study. The decision was made half way through my first year to commit my time to specific plants collected during WW1 and also the growing of food on an allotment.
This display at the MA show had two areas and was a work-in-progress exhibition of my current work.
Below is the response made to my time spent working on the allotment.
During the second and third semesters of my Masters in Fine Art I have been growing and collecting produce from the allotment.
The culmination of this experience was turned into an exhibition for the Masters Show in September.
A 'potting shed' display with seed packets with previous plant artworks and photographs transferred onto envelopes cascading through a collection of artefacts, collected seeds and herbs; a collection of photographs and art printed onto small wooden panels showing the progress of the allotment over this time; Sage plants that had been propagated from cuttings and were given out to visitors to the show.
The second depicts the start of an artwork in response to the foxglove plant. This for a botanical artist would normally be on paper with watercolour or pencil and depict the full plant with various parts in close up.
Utilising the shape of the flower spike I decided to create an artwork that was different to the norm, using many panels of varied sizes with each depicting a part of the plant in closeup. The installation shows some of the plant materials, photographs, plans, drawings, tools to be used and the blank wooden panels ready to be worked on.
You will probably notice that the work I am producing at the moment is in square aspect...my rational for this is the veer away from the standard ideology format used for botanical or landscape painting. My works produced in the coming months will be the foxglove and also a series of plant paintings, with each in a landscape from where it would be collected. I will also be revisiting sketches from the rose exposition and turning these into paintings. So for this and the other pieces I have made the decision to continue the 'square' for the duration of my MA studies.
Research into plants cultivated and collected during the time of WW1 and the interwar years has led me to look at plants that have helped heal in the battlefield. One such plant is Sphagnum moss.
In preparation for my second Masters Exposition in May I mapped potential Sphagnum moss locations (1) in the Northeast and information from other parts of Scotland.
Sphagnum moss, was collected from local moss bogs, thoroughly cleaned and dried and used as a packing for bandages and wound dressings for the troops in WW1.
After investigating plant growing and collection during the First World War in relation to my Masters, I thought I would get a useful insight by growing plants and harvesting them myself...and possibly with the help of the family and friends community around me.
My first foray into this was to see what allotment spaces were available in Aberdeen city, so I approached the city council to see if there were any allotments available to me...I sent in an application for the Garthdee allotments and found out I would have a two year wait. Not ideal as my Masters would be finished by then.
On further investigation I found out that Robert Gordon's University (RGU) has an allotment area in Garthdee which can be used by students. I contacted David of Go Green at RGU and met up with him just over a week ago.
David was very keen that the allotments were used and showed me around the space. There are 6 small plots, one is used for the Go Green initiative and the others are shared on a first come basis to students and staff at RGU. Depending on uptake the plots can be shared or sole occupancy. At the side of the plots there is an area where Aberdeen City Council supply manure and leaf mulch for anyone who wants to use on the allotment. There is also a herb garden, which is a little overgrown, but would be useful if reworked.
As part of the RGU area there is a polytunnel, a shed and plenty of water on tap and through rain buckets. He mentioned that the allocation of allotments for this year hadn't been done yet, but as I was to be using the plot as part of my studies I will be given a plot....just like that I am now 'almost' an allotment holder and starting to plan my plot. The scale is quite small only around 3x5m maximum in size if I am allocated a whole plot, just perfect for a newby plantswoman.
Love and Healing
While researching my MA project, plants grown and collected in WW1, I came across an artefact put up for sale of a dried rose and poppy which had been plucked in the trenches and sent to a loved one at home to commemorate and remember the loss of a child. The response to this comes in the form of my recent sketches and work for my first exposition at Gray’s. The work here represents the combination of a new process for me, working in water-mixable oils on linen canvas, and emphasising the negative space through painting in dark colours, to subliminally give the impression of white.
Exhibition space in the foyer at Grays showing finished pieces, with sketches.
The studio space at Gray’s was a challenge at times due to its compact nature. As you can see from my work, I have kept it small for now and will work on larger pieces later in the year.
Rose attempt two I decided to paint without drawing and was pleased with the result.
Planning is key to a successful event. When it is more than one appearing to collide in the near future it is useful to keep holding onto to those reigns.
As you know I will be opening my garden studio doors for NEOS in September....and the week after running a workshop in Aboyne for the Upper Deeside Art Society...and because I like a stressless life. I am currently looking into doing an MA starting in the Autumn...all of which need planning.
As you can see in the photograph above. I have been mapping some plans today. I find it really useful to work this way as you can move items around and group them into a specific area...it would work equally well with a pencil, paper and rubber or creating bulleted lists.
For NEOS I need to plan what will be on the walls of my limited space,. When to get prints and cards made, down to organising the open event , putting up the yellow signs and remembering to invite people (ok it's a bit more complex than that but you get the idea). What if I want to run a demo....what will it be? Do I need pencils, pens or paint or all of them?
Well over this weekend the plan should be in place with a budget attached and timings. Will let you know how it goes.
...in a dry old pot
Suddenly after a deluge of rain this past week, the garden has come alive. One of the larger pots next to the summerhouse has a pieres 'Forest Flame', some meandering periwinkle and at some point there had been dwarf tulips in the pot, which had never really come to much. Imagine my surprise when a couple of days after the heavy rain I noticed the following flower appear.
Over the years we had seen the leaves come up and assumed it was a remnant of the tulips planted over 10 years ago, and hadn't flowered.
At first I thought...No..it can't be an orchid...can it?!
Then after posting the photograph on Facebook, all those who replied suggested some form of orchid...someone had mentioned a bee orchid, but I thought it was something more common.
A few searches later and I have come up with an early marsh orchid.
Here are some more photographs taken this morning. Let me know what you think it is...I would really like to find out for sure.
Next step is to learn how to keep it going over the years.
In the meantime...I am watering the plant every day...if you know if I need to do this let me know.
This year I have become one of the 269 local artists and makers who have entered the NEOS | North East Open Studios festival for the arts, number 247.
This year I have been teaching botanical and watercolour classes at the Northern Arts Club and Rosemount Community Centre, and contributed to the inaugural Heuvombing OVD ABZ event set up by Lady Thornfield for Easter time.
Having entered NEOS it will give me the boost to get down to painting.
Below is a little bit about my venue for the event and how it came about.
The summerhouse in our garden came about over a number of years (12)...I had saved up some freelance earnings early on after having the children, with the hope that some day I would be able to create a space in the garden to paint.
While the children were small I felt the garden was their domain, where we had the shute/climbing frame, a place for the paddling pool, the occasional garden games and of course the footie kick aboot and more recently the trampoline. So the summerhouse idea went on the back burner...waiting to happen one day.
Just at the moment when the trampoline was past its sell-by date I thought this is the moment. As it was being dismantled our son, who was 14 at the time, was playing tennis and was sure to be the next Andy Murray... said he would like a tennis practice rebound net for his birthday... and although not the ideal spot for it we decided it would just fit in the garden, with enough space to play.
So there it was so close and yet so far....
..then I thought...NO! ...we will make them both fit.
So I downscaled the size of the summerhouse to the depth of the shed which would be just outside the area needed to use the net, and managed to fit it in...and 6 months later it was done.
As to the size of it, as it turned out for botanical painting and drawing all I needed was a desk and some storage for paper and materials, so more than big enough for that. There is even a small area separate from the 'art zone' for two seats for hubby and me to sit and have a cuppa...bonus!
Two years down the line and the summerhouse has become a quiet haven to create.
...and the next Andy Murray...lets say the net is down and the windows now have no tennis ball marks ... a slightly distant memory...never to be forgotten.
Looking forward to seeing you in September
Fiona Swapp lives and works in Aberdeen. She has over 30 years experience as a graphic designer and botanical artist.
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