Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Mendip Quarries - Step-In-Stone

This afternoon I attempted to find the group of artists that I had agreed to meet in Fairy Cave quarry, having escaped from work a little early keen to discuss the Step-In-Stone art project that I am part of this summer. As I drove up and down the Mendip lanes around Vobster and Holcombe I was reminded of the many other such days I have spent trying to find elusive pot holes, cliffs to climb and flooded quarries to scuba dive in. For such enormous civil engineering projects they are astonishingly invisible at ground level and only the expanse of air between tree lines or the large boulders used to block access give any hint that there is a huge hole in the ground anywhere nearby. In a light flurry of brief snow I found the quarry entrance and walked down between mossed trees and ferns into this instantly alien landscape. The english quarry, home to many a cash strapped science fiction drama, opened up around me as I wandered alone over the flat gravel floor with cliffs climbing up to the severed tree line and the ever present tumbling rooks and jackdaws. The bird calls echo in these huge spaces, clear ponds fill the recesses in the ground and the mud on the tracks betray the activities of motorbiking teenagers, passing deer and dog walkers. Enjoyed a solitary hour climbing into different areas of the quarry and considering how I might respond as an artist - site specific placement, collection of evidence or diving adventure perhaps ?

Went on to the Somerset Earth Science centre as the daylight began to fade,
and heard that I had missed the other artists again, by only 20 minutes. A terrific '0' carbon building by a lake and another quarry and I talked to the staff about their collections of skulls and stones, the otter that they had seen in the lake and the kingfisher that flew with astonishing speed along the far bank. An orange and blue mechanical jewel in an otherwise denuded winter landscape.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Walking in Woods

A wintry weekend of walking in Suffolk, we enjoyed exploring with friends the intertwining of heathland, forest, marsh and coast around Dunwich and Minsmere.   The architecture of trees stands out particularly in their bare winter guise.  We could see limes that had been blown down in the '87 gales and resprouted where they lay, examples of old laid hedgerow trees that were growing horizontally, and flaky-barked birch glistening in crispy winter sunshine.

But the highlight was a visit to an area of wood pasture in Rendlesham forest. This was a new habitat to me. It is an ancient land management technique in which trees are pollarded and spaced to allow for grazing in between, giving rise to a specific pasture and home to specialist plants. The ancient oaks that stand there have such character as a result of this pollarding, with huge main boughs and twists, gashes and gapes that tell individual stories.

And in a final treat, as we pushed on through a positively Arthurian section of this woodland, we came across a herd of a dozen or more fallow deer, a harem of does with a single buck. After initially scattering to a safe distance, they surveyed us interlopers for a moment, before blending back into their sylvan shadows.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Icy cycle to work.

A cold winter morning cycle in to work. Buzzard in the oak tree as usual, the sun rising and a road covered in ice. Beautiful.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Cold water maceration, you can't beat it.

Cold-water maceration is the best way, in my opinion, to unaggressively clean bones. After a year in a dustbin underwater in the garden the dolphin skull and porpoise skeleton are a lot more manageable than they were when I first retrieved them from beaches in North Norfolk in 2012 and a cove in Devon in 2013.  I carefully lifted the bones out and where once connecting tissues held them together they are now loose and independent of each other. This presents other problems for the amateur naturalist as they then become easily disorganised. I moved them in small groups carefully to my workshop table and laid them out to dry. Both of the skulls still contained 'material' that had to be removed with a shaped scoop and all of the bones will need carefully cleaning and de-greasing at a later date. It is immediately clear how much bigger the dolphin skull is than the harbour porpoise and also how much sharper the teeth are. The soft material that still remains in the dustbin has been re-immersed and I'll have to carefully pour it through a sieve later to retrieve small bones and teeth, not or the faint hearted. Excited to see how much of the porpoise skeleton there is as I thought it was more scattered by birds, foxes and dogs when I first found it buried in the sand. There are clearly a lot of ribs missing and flipper bones and the matter is made more complicated as I remember that I dropped bits of a seal into the dustbin at some point and so it'll take some detective work to sort out the jigsaw. Everyone needs a winter project.

Winter Bees

Went over to help Bob with a hive that had blown over in the night. Lovely sunny winter morning thankfully and the bees were flying, warming themselves and even returning with some of their pollen sacks laden from the few winter flowering plants. When we first got to the hive, with suits on and smoker working, it was completely on it's side with the compartments spilled out over the floor but thankfully there were bees still about and all signs suggest that the queen is still inside. The brood chamber with an attached super, still had the queen excluder fixed in-place with propolis and we could see bees moving about on the frames and so we steadily rebuilt the hive on level footings and worked our way up adding the frames.The bees were soon busy around the landing board but weren't particularly angry, pleased to have their home re-assembled and the warmth back. Always a pleasure to help bob with the bees and to talk about beekeeping, there is so much to learn. The other hives in the apiary seemed fine, with bees arriving and leaving steadily,  and I'm looking forward to having my own hives this year and so I returned home laden with brood boxes and frames to clean up in preparation for the spring, ready to house new swarms.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Post Christmas Stuffing.

Well I still have a great deal to learn about taxidermy. I have set my mind to resolving the backlog of experimental roadkill specimens, currently housed in my 'special' freezer, as I must get on top of the expanding collection and bring my skills up to scratch so that I  can tackle more ambitious projects. I started the year by mounting a mouse, labelled in a bag and found in 2012, but it all went a bit pear-shaped as clearly the mouse was a little bit 'over the top' when I froze it - as it became clear when I couldn't get the pelt off what had become a rather grim mousy soup. 

I moved on to a swift, found by the roadside in the village in 2008, and made more effective progress. It was quite tricky removing the flesh from the wing stumps and inside the head and I used a heavier grade of wire than I should have but the outcome seems ok. In retrospect I should have simply used cotton wool, rather than a clay body form, as with it's tiny legs the swift would be better preserved as simple study skin as I don't plan to mount it sitting on a twig, when do you ever see a swift sitting on anything ? Expect more posts as I progress through the freezer drawers, I will clear the back log this year.

Friday, 2 January 2015

New Year Map Murmuration

Starting the creative new year with printmaking experiments. Developing on, from the schooling hammerhead shark and starling prints that I have been working on over Christmas in Norfolk, I have moved onto a larger scale. I have now returned to Somerset and clasping handfuls of old maps stored in my sheds, beneath the evening sky filled with the very birds I am trying to capture, I have started  using the linocuts and stamps to develop larger works and am pleased with the progress. It's invigorating to work in media that I haven't explored for a long time and I am keen to bring more print work into my illustration, much planned for 2015.