I’ve been making sure to celebrate the sunshine as and when we have it…..this is the view of Romney Marsh from close to Camber Sands and Broomgrove Sands. As I was leaving a huge flock of wild geese appeared on the skyline.

You can hear them on this short film

The first workshop at Lydd church went really well, despite it being colder in the church than it was outside. We took this photo of our basket base on the church stone pillar. It is so nice being in such an inspiring space. There were visitors and all of them were interested to know what we were doing. The Churchwardens are very supportive and allow us hot chocolate and fresh coffee to keep us warm. They like that there is an activity going on in the church.

More sunshine today, has meant more blue sky views and yes…..more willow weaving


Blue sky views #coast #marsh

it’s the time of year to make the most of the limited daylight hours. Because willow grows so quickly it’s possible to forage thin weavers but there is also a lot of much bigger material.I’ve decided to test out making baskets from both dried willow and fresh willow. Obviously, the colour will fade but I’m wanting to find out if the structure of the basket is compromised by drying and shrinking material. We shall see….

I’ve decided to use the bigger material for making Catalan platters, they’ve gone down well as gifts. 1year old willow plants are providing enough material to make these lovely platters. They can be used for presenting cheese and other tasty treats, but I’m also enjoying them hung on the wall as a reminder of all the gorgeous colours that are available at this time of year.They can also be used to display beach combing treasures. These were found at Rye Harbour and St Leonard’s bulverhythe beach.

I’m pleased to say that the bird feeders are in good use. The corn dolly design is the most successful and it seems to be squirrel proof! A great design feature. The barrel design is too easily raided so I’ve added more of the bird friendly design, which means that the fat ball lasts a lot longer and we can enjoy watching more wild birds feeding from them. result!

I had a bonfire yesterday evening, burning hedge materials that I can’t use for making. It wasn’t a big fire but gave me an excuse for keeping the fire going while enjoying a clear night sky and it’s constellations. I burned 2 baskets that I made when I first starting making *solo* ie without a n expert on hand to guide me. As you can imagine they weren’t without errors and it was time to let go of them. I gather that burning baskets is like an initiation ceremony, that the baskets have improved sufficiently to let go of the less successful versions. The smell of the willow burning was lovely, one of them had a collection of dried sage in it so even more pungent in the cold night air.

Next week, I start a masterclass weaving session. The idea is that I teach basketry at an easy beginners pace, with the idea that the students then consolidate their learning by teaching another group. Speed, peer learning , I think it could be really good. the first objective is an egg basket made with both dry and fresh willow….it might also be time to forage for some clematis too!

Foraging and practising traditional skills

Thank goodness we have had some winter sunshine amongst the gales and storms.

This time of year It is good to be outside (even in the rain) to think about the materials and colour that can inspire our creativity

In addition to the material we were able to bring back from #Hambrook marshes in Canterbury. I’m using material that I’ve grown in the garden and on the allotment

The important thing to remember with willow is that it is essential to cut the year’s growth before the end of the following February.

Our next trip to Hambrook marsh has already been organised for that very reason.

If the trees are left, they grow so fast there is a chance of ending up with a full size tree and no suitable material for weaving. I’m learning all this through being a volunteer and trial & error.

These are the results from this weekend. The bird feeders have provided the colour palette I need to cope with the winter blues and greys! I know that their colour will fade over time , and possibly the weave will dry and shrink. However, so far, they have kept their shape sufficiently and are being given away as gifts. They are proving to be very popular. We had an order for 15, from a very chic shop in Rye, and as a result our community group in Lydd are inspired to develop their basketry skills and the potential for selling their products. A big ambition for this group is to build a cottage industry using local free / low cost resources with the potential for bringing new economies to the town.

I think small willow projects help to build confidence in working with this very special material. I am enjoying trying out using freshly cut willow. This material was cut over 4 weeks ago and left outside in the rain, wind and sleet. It seems to tolerate these conditions and the willow does need to ‘mellow’ before being used ie don’t weave with it straight from the plant.

The Catalan platter is a joy to make from material that’s not quite suitable for making a basket ie too thick, thinner rods are easier. There is a great skill behind cultivating willow so purchasing material from willow farms is always going to be a necessity.

The platter is made using willow from my garden, I’ve so enjoyed having the skills to select out the length and diameter of willow suitable for this project. I find myself thinking about my community group as I make and wondering how we might be able to source enough fresh willow for each of them to make one of these. I think in February I can bring supplies from Canterbury and it will be the perfect time of year to be experimenting with this range of colour.

On a completely different tangent, our new audio trail project is going well. The SaLT project which stands for Stories and Lives Trail, will help to preserve stories and lives from the amazing and rich cultural history of Romney Marsh. We are working with a local designer to produce a SaLT trail postcard to illustrate the ideas behind the audio trail. New research has brought some amazing archive photographs to our attention.

These are the women, who during the 1950’s would launch the lifeboat from Dungeness beach.

I spoke to one of the few women who helped launch the boat and who is still living on Dungeness and volunteering for the RNLI. She remembers the need for using local women’s skills and strength to respond to an emergency at sea. We hope to talk to her more and record her stories & memories in order to include them in our audio guide next year. If you live locally and want to get involved please email or phone us at officeairm@gmail.com or on 01797 367455

We are able to develop our project through the generous support from Heritage Lottery Fund @HLFSouthEast who are supporting us to make this exciting new archive and resource

Willow colours and winter challenges

the last few days before setting off on the journey home have been full of colour, sweltering heat and artworks

My sketchbook is almost full and with a heavy heart I’m saying goodbye to our resident cook

The last day of our residency brought an impromptu dance performance and ceremonies of an official government visit. Everyone was served with a fresh coconut for delicious coconut milk drink

And trying to keep my thoughts on how we might work in partnership in the future. The quality of the work we’ve seen has been of such a high standard

And the opportunity to learn skills and to find out about the use of local free resources such as palm leaves, natural colours, shells, wood apple sap, betel nut has been inspirational

We also had the chance to meet artists from around the world who are currently busy making steel sculptures from scrap during the symposium of Odisha Triennial http://otia.org.in/ . This is the first year of bringing new commissions to this part of India and trialling the first open air sculpture park. Exciting new opportunities for the area, engaging with international artists and the new wave of Triennial and Biennial arts festivals. We wish them good luck for their opening ceremony taking place tomorrow!

Cultural and art exchange trip to India

We arrived at the studio expecting our request to try and paint using a coconut shell to have fallen between the edges of English and Hindi. But no, 4 small coconut shells were placed on the work mat. Result! The shells have evidently been primed with a type of mud/primer/plaster, very pink and absorbant surface perfect for painting.

Again, our choice of design. I have gone with a 3 sided , the coconut has 3 surfaces, I want to pay homage to the lovely and unusual natural references that I have noted since arriving here, water lily, Ibis, cockerel, macaque.

I start by painting a layer of white paint as a primer and then draw an outline in blue to give a frame for each shape. The asymmetrical quality of the coconut suits my style of working. I will be bringing the main objects out and over the borders and mixing the design in with other motifs and patterns

The tutor really responded to my design and clearly really likes drawing chickens. I have my paint brush snatched from me regularly and so most of the main objects have been done by him. I’m a bit disappointed with the Ibis. I was looking forward to tackling this myself, but ah well we have another nut to transform at the end of the week

these are the final results

Coconut shell as a painting surface

We are now on the final phase of our painting course, we are given 5 full days of tuition. However, due to weather interruptions and visitors, we have one day to paint a last canvas.

I’ve divided the frame into 2 and have chosen the tiger and the deer. This idea has come from a box that I found in the studio. The tutor guru found this very amusing as the box was made by a child. However, it is lovely so I’m using the same motifs. A local official, who seemed very unsteady decided I needed help with my border lines. He managed to not draw a straight line even with a ruler, It took me a while to get my work back on track….

An aside: We’ve been having lots of palm fronds suddenly crashing to the ground outside our dwelling. This morning a team of ‘tree surgeons’ arrived with climbing gear : one rope and a machete strapped to their back , job done!

Tiger as a symbol of India comes up a lot so I expect there will be further versions….

The next project is 3D and learning how to make traditional masks, our new guru is a woman from the next village and she speaks no English. She does however, have very strong facial expressions. The tutors eat lunch with us and there is a positive sense of community that revolves around food. There are semi feral dogs everywhere waiting for the scraps

All of my local observations are appearing in the work, this is really important. I’m amazed at how working in such a unique environment, different tools, surfaces, and resources has changed my approach. I have looked at so many Indian paintings over the years I’m thoroughly enjoying learning the motifs, patterns and styles.

Tiger tiger burning bright

We have spent the morning using local traditional designs, well documented and recorded in a directory of Indian paintings, to create our own version. We have a number of official tutors and the random visitors who seem to want to just know who we are and where we are from.

The studio is a long building that serves as a production centre and a social creative space. The room smells of familiar materials such as paint, glue, paper and has a miscellany of papier-mâché masks, sculptures, posters and photographs around its walls. The sun is hot today and prepping cloth with layers of glue and chalk takes only a few minutes to dry.

I’ve chosen to work from a sculpture of Ganesh for my painting. This is hanging on the studio wall covered in spider web. It is a really detailed design, I love the way the animal is shaped with realistic curves. It is stylised but also expresses the physicality of the elephant really well. The tutor made the sculpture and is happy for me to work from it.

I’ve made a number of sketches of it to get the scale down to the size of my canvas.

We are using a very limited palette of primaries plus white and black which follows the local tradition.

A border has been added to our canvas for us to start, this also appeals to my way of working. I am aware of the importance of borders in design and painting so great to make a start with good inspiration and materials.

taking a break outside the studio, I saw monkeys, long tailed macaques?, running along the village walls and up the coconut trees. Apparently they are wary of people but will come to take a biscuit if encouraged to do so.

Today has started well with a breakfast of bread and honey. I hadn’t realised how much I missed a simple breakfast. Indian families eat curry at every meal. I like curry a lot but not for breakfast everyday!

Our studio is open from 10 am and I feel pleased with how my painting is going , the design has to include quite a lot of pattern and references to nature. I love water lilies/ lotus flower and they appear a lot in Indian visuals so to be shown how to represent them is a real treat.

Today there is a special festival celebrating the goddess Dhurga everyone is looking very relaxed and we have more visitors today. All are very encouraging and there are quite a few English speakers wanting to translate for us.

We’ve finished our first painting and time to think about the next project. I’ve seen a hand painted coconut shell so might ask if I can have a go. I like the shape of them , it’s the outer green casing that is used. The tutor is very difficult to read, so it may or may not happen.

We’ve been invited to travel to Puri on Thursday by our cook. She is way into retirement age but we have been told the government gives her approx £3 per month to live on, she is looking after her own daughter and her grand daughter so her life is very hard. Despite this, she wants us to see her house and her life at the coast. So we will go. I’m looking forward to it but also to getting in the sea.

Channeling #India

Arriving through a cyclone and experiencing monsoon type rain travelling was not anticipated. I didn’t know about the cyclone that had blown in across the Bay of Bengal until I was on the flight from New Delhi and by then it was too late to change my mind. My fears on not being met at the airport were unfounded. I have had nothing but welcoming looks and hospitality since arriving in Bhubaneswar.

My host Khitish even though I have never met him before, seems to share my passion for creativity and he exudes the desire to share his country, work and people. Because of the extreme weather I’m currently taking sanctuary at his mother’s house which is inland from Bhubaneswar, in Selebur.

The plan is now to stay with her and wait for the weekend when the weather is expected to be better and an artist from France will also arrive. We can then move into the village Raghurajpur where all the expert makers live

The house here is brightly painted, all the women have the most beautiful saris and the children don’t seem to be at school. It’s Friday so they may have a longer weekend. There is a number of festivals this month, to celebrate the goddess Dhurga.

After 2 days the rain has stopped and I e been able to walk around and take a look at the landscape. The house is surrounded by paddy fields and Khitish tells me this is the main food source since major flooding in 2009.

I’ve already seen water buffalo, a sacred cow and goats. There also white ibis and cattle egret on the fields. I am pacing myself even though I’ve already had a hair raising journey by plane car and moto to get here. I really haven’t quite adjusted to the time difference and I can sense that I feel the routine of UK habits creeping in, I’m also trying to allow myself to adjust to a much spicier experience at mealtimes and no coffee ouch!

The need for language is so desperate but I’m making use of local children to get them repeating words to me in English and in return they are correcting my Hindi pronounciation

A walk into the market, which is the permanent stalls and shops that line the main thoroughfare, involves traversing sand paths and waterlogged roads to where you can buy anything from mobile phones to marigold garlands

Luckily for me , Khitish’s Mum is an excellent cook

Visiting a partner arts organisation in rural #India

September has brought our community group together with a celebration of the rich Elizabethan colours that can be extracted from madder

We were lucky to have the expert guidance from our visiting tutor Jenny Oliver , she skilfully guided us through the various options. For example, adding different mordants, dipping the samples into citric acid, ammonia solutions or added sodium

We took the necessary precautions making sure that each sample , this is raw Wensleydale wool, had the correct conditions for the dye bath. As you can see we are in the lovely church environs. I don’t suppose we are the first to be bringing dye plants, wool and cloth into the church.

Thanks to the glorious Autumnal weather, we were able to take the more pungent materials outside into the churchyard

As a hands on activity, Jenny had us collecting dandelions in the church yard for a quick but effective plant dye experiment

We simply crushed the dandelion leaves flowers plus a madder leaf between a fold of muslin. The colours were immediate and effective to produce a lovely design

Another plant foraging session involved searching out an abandoned pond to collect some bulrush leaves. These we are hoping to dry in order to practise rush weaving.

We had some company on our adventure but unfortunately they were distracted by the stagnant water that surrounded the area we chose to forage in

Mucky dogs needed a prompt wash and rub down…..The shampooing and rinsing activity was enjoyed by the local stable occupants and NOT the mucky dogs!!

Here are some more dyeing efforts, thank you summer and autumn for such plentiful

and varied supplies….

golden rod

Onion skins

Mordanted raw wool

Please note we now have a stainless steel pot for dyeing the wool, thanks to a local charity shop👍

Growing madder alongside woad plus other ideas….