The ‘Illustrators in Nature weekend pulled together 12 recent contributors to Amelia’s Magazine for a workshop at the Commonwork farm at Bore Place in Kent. Commonwork’s vision goes towards a fairer world, in which people work with one another and nature. It works by using it’s land and resources, and by teaching people, from any age, the benefit of doing this. By bringing together like-minded individuals in a rural environment, the workshop intended to inspire, create nature awareness, and enable us to collaborate with each other on new levels. In other words, work as a community. Thankfully, the weather was on our side!
After a breakfast of fresh eggs, the gang sat down to express themselves. What inspired them? What were these young creatives all about?
Zakee Shariff‘s calming disposition was well fitting with her orientation towards ‘peace’. And James Shedwan‘s picture frame with a photo of a cut down tree marked a sad memory of his, once, favourite tree. Nick Garrett‘s comics had monkeys swinging out from the pages, and Ute Kleim‘s stuffed cat was kitsch. Nikki Pinder‘s handmade parcels with lucky pennies and vintage book tears were unique and Jess Wilson‘s honest illustrations in her books presented what culture means today. Jasmine Foster‘s delicate and girly watercolours mirrored her soft and smiley personality. Electronic device dinosaurs and armadillos made up of beer bottles filled Andy Council‘s folder, and Amy Brown‘s fun, monster-like creatures took imagination to a new level. And, as for Andrew Cross, as long as you have your Rabbit, your light-hearted bunnies will hop along at whichever pace you like.
Our guided tree walk with Leo Murray brought us much closer to nature. An environmental activist, he uses his creative side to express his involvement with nature through animation. I learnt a lot that day about the natural world that I live in. I was saddened to find out that Horse-chestnut trees in Britain are in turmoil because they are under attack by an aggressive disease.
Gorse and hazel were starting to bloom, in January! One consequence of Global warming staring me in the face! We picked up a fungus called King Alfred’s Cake, also known as tinder fungus, that grows on birch trees, and brought it back to use as a natural black ink. The special thing about King Alfred’s Cake is that as long as it is dry inside, it will catch a spark and light easily, perfect for starting fires.
Illustrator Simone Lia, renowned for creating children’s books like ‘Fluffy’, showed her work on a projector. By drawing faces on any everyday objects, Simone manages to turn the most disregarded things into dainty characters of their own. ‘Chip and Bean’ really do feel alive! ‘Poor old bean!’ I sigh. In fact, one photo that she presented to us of her dad holding her as a young child had a strong resemblance to Chip and Bean.
Have you ever sat on your own in a quiet place, in the same spot, for half an hour? It’s really something everyone should try out. We all found a spot on our own, for ‘quiet time’, listening out for the bell to ring at the half hour mark, for our return. Now, for everyday people with hectic lifestyles, ‘quiet time’ is a real rarity. I for one like to go on walks every now and again to clear my head, but each to their own. So, there I was, in the middle of a field, perched on a pile of old tractor tyres, watching the sun go down and listening to my new surroundings. One or two crows screeched, the crazy farmer man shouted instructions at his herd of cows, and planes soured above me every few minutes. Well I must have found some sort of peace, as I found myself wandering back to the barn an hour and a half later, looking through the window to find my peers sitting in the front room, fire going, and cups of tea in hand! I had somehow missed the bell! Reassuringly, ‘stripy’ Andy had returned only 5 minutes earlier too.
The weekend was a weekend where even the most closed books had to open up. Being thrown statements in which we had to answer in pairs for 2 minutes each, uninterrupted, let us engage with each other’s personal thoughts. ‘What upsets me the most is…’ ‘I get over that by…’ ‘What I fear most for the future is…’ ‘What inspires me is…’ These were real people in front of me, pouring out their feelings. Suddenly they were no longer just the makers of ‘pretty pictures’ that I had previously only known on paper.
On Sunday renowned illustrator Andy McGregor led the next task, chopping up piles of intensely coloured vegetables. No, not for eating! For making natural inks! (The recipes are available in issue ’08 of the magazine.) I donned my rather large and attractive old shirt, and with flour and crushed charcoal filling the air, we transformed the contents of our fridge into bright and beautiful coloured inks. I am yet to find out if these intense red inks work as a good hair dye!
Ruth England, resident leader at Commonworks, worked with us making willow sculptures, by bending and shaping willow branches. We made large leaf masterpieces, by covering them in tissue paper, soaked in the flour and egg white paste mixed with the natural inks.
Working together, we conspired, inspired and created George. Ah, George, our weird and wonderful friend of nature. Made up of painted cardboard cut out into leaves and wild animals, sculpted willow, and dried twigs and grass, George began to emerge from the majestic tree. If only I could see how our sculpture will decay in the coming weeks.
Our games of consequences, our rather muddy stumble into the fields to admire the stars in this rural corner of Kent, the visit to see the chickens and Nikki and Jasmine’s late night frights due to an old tapping heater brought smiles to many faces.
All in all, the ‘Illustrators In Nature’ workshop weekend was utterly inspiring, fun, and gave me the chance to meet all these great people. If only it had lasted longer. Time, now for another cup of tea I think!
- Like when you were five: Persona Arts Festival and painting workshop
- Exhibition: Arboreal
- Review: City and Guilds of London Art School Fine Art Degree Show 2015
- Review: Made in Clerkenwell – Winter Open Studios at Craft Central 2011
- When Shadows Return to the Sea: An interview with Martha Bean