Cultural and art exchange trip to India

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!

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Coconut shell as a painting surface

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

Tiger tiger burning bright

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.

Channeling #India

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.

Visiting a partner arts organisation in rural #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

Growing madder alongside woad plus other ideas….

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👍

Autumn bounty

We are collecting flowers, berries, hedgerow materials and thinking how we can keep our community learning going for another year.

I’ve cooked some elderberries and sieved them to preserve the amazing colour produced. It’s now safely in the freezer, alongside the damson juices that I collected earlier in the year.

I am yet to equip my studio with stainless steel pans. I need these to get an even colour when I next dye some romney wool.

I’m also wanting to purchase or make a peg loom to trial some wool weaving.

My search for purchasing some willow continues but thankfully, today, it has been possible to re engage with weaving. I remembered to take sharp secateurs on a recent dog walk and found myself dragging a supply of long bramble runners along the footpath. I stopped to have a catch up with the local park warden when I suddenly thought I needed to explain WHY I was carrying a bundle of brambles ha! The things we do for art!

This is the final outcome of weaving bramble runners. I love the colours and although this is quite tricky to make. It really is worth the effort.

This is a technique that can be used ‘ in the field’ , you would need to be carrying sturdy gardening gloves and sharp secateurs, but all possible.

The thorns on bramble are incredibly tough, to remove them I pulled the runners through holes drilled into pieces of scrap hardboard. This works really well, without damaging the ‘weavers’

For the handle, I’ve used a spare willow rod. This had been previously soaked and so flexible enough to make a curve across the width of the basket.

So this is a basket for collecting blackberries, made from the blackberry hedgerow itself. It feels important to have a purpose for any basket making. It brings a sense of function and also helps to think about ancestors who might have made something similar in times gone by.

Other material that is catching my eye at the moment, is the stunning fields of long grass that are glowing away in the late autumn sunshine.

I’ve collected 2 lots already and have them stashed away in the chicken house. It is dry in there and out of reach to the hens.

Planning to make more of this sort of thing….?

Colour from the fields, hedgerows and coastline

We are planning on working with an expert in natural dyes and she is going to share her passion for Madder. She is a chemist by training and holds a PhD, she is now researching the qualities of a number of plants traditionally used for dyeing.

I’m hoping she will help us identify this gorgeous plant, is it weld? Or woad?

If you are in Lydd and want to have a look at what we’ve been achieving over the last year. one of our parents and carers group has very kindly put together a display with laminated information sheets. Nice work Melanie!

Note to self, not to use aluminium pots

For dyeing, I wish I had realised this earlier, but learning from my mistakes.

I’ve now got to source some stainless steel pans for future use

back to the hedgerows for berries , these are gorgeous elderberries and are great fun to pick, they are very abundant this year and I think it’s ok to share with the birds

SaLT trail training

We are working hard on preparation for collecting local stories and life experiences from people on the marsh. We are going to be intertwining recordings of people from the past with those from people living locally.

In order to do this well

we are organising training from The Oral History Society based at The British Library

funded by

FREE TRAINING DAY

in ORAL HISTORY

AT

ALL SAINT’S CHURCH

LYDD ON

Thursday 27TH SEPTEMBER 2018 10-4PM

The course will give you a full understanding of ;

• how oral history can help us keep information about the past

• why we need to preserve people’s lives and experiences

• how oral history gives us exciting ways to learn about the past through other people’s stories

• how to use recording equipment

• how to make sure that the correct protocol is followed

• how to create important archives that can be used by others

Interested?only 6 places remain ….so hurry …email artinromneymarsh@gmail.com to book your place