Having made a decision not to edit my palette monochromatically, I am selecting the materials by tone. The hue of the material is part of the decision, made differently.
I divide an assortment of oil pastels into three tins, Dark, Mid and Light tones, all marked on the lid for identification in the gloaming. The Hue will not be visible whilst I’m working so you may wonder what I’m doing? After a few experiments I have discovered that the sensory deprivation of not being able to use my eyes to gather the usual information about the subject, has unexpectly led me to a more spontaneous way of working. It is literally as if I have tricked myself into being less self conscious and more intuitive. A resetting of creativity embracing chance perhaps?
So far I have enjoyed the unexpected and am now playing to it when I make my selection and pack my bag. Red mountains or an orange sea carry a potent symbolism and lead me to the much loved painting of Emile Nolde, someone whose work I have admired for forty five years.
Having begun this work with water based media on paper I decided to change materials for something more robust. I dug out some old oil pastels and A5 canvas panels and continued my nocturnal visits to the beach. The sense of place becomes increasingly familiar and as it is hard to see what I am doing, I focus on the view and ‘feel’ my way into the subject. The light levels are so low that it is beyond being able to read colour and the work is modulated in tone. As I select my materials in the studio and pack a minimal amount, you might think my selection would be monochromatic. Instead, I have selected a range of colours in three tonal ranges, dark, medium and light. I am enjoying the surprise of the results when I have earnestly drawn a cloud or seascape to discover later the unexpected hue of the work.
Over the last few winters I have determined to find an activity to see myself through these long hours. Last winter I focused on cutting lino blocks based on the decorated old Chinese porcelain inherited from previous generations of Norries family which I found stuffed into a cupboard. I became fascinated by how they told a story of their history and that of their previous owners.
When the clocks went back and what were already shortening days became long and ever lengthening nights, I embarked on a new project – painting in the dark!
The work started by going out onto the beach either before dawn and working until the light levels rose to be able to see colour, or in reverse, at dusk and working until it is completely dark. Sitting in the same place every time and with no light, I connected with an instinctive part of myself and my response when denied familiar references. Often it is unclear what colour or tool I have picked up but I am developing a second sense to having a limited number of tools around me and placing them carefully so I pick them up without having to check. I carry a small torch incase I drop something and to find my way home if it is too dark! I started with work on paper and water soluble materials, pen ink felt pen watercolour but as the weather is so changeable have moved over to oil based pastels.
All detail and colour is lost in the darkness and the hills appear like huge whales rising out of the sea. The sea and the sky meet as I look south towards the isle of Lismore and the Firth of Lorn and onwards to the isles of Mull and eventually Jura. I know this because of familiarity with the geography but of course these masses are not visible in the darkness; I simply feel their presence. The subject becomes an emotional response to somewhere I inhabit frequently during the daytime and in day light.
Keen to increase the scale, I moved up from postcard to A5. On days too wet to go out, I have been experimenting with mono print on sizes up to A4.
My recent preoccupation has been with printmaking and I have spent the winter investigating memorabilia from my husband’s family history. I found a collection of chipped and cracked china and made these the theme for a series of lino cuts. These have been printed in sequence and I became curious about their past and that of those who owned them, leading me to an Edwardian scrapbook and so I began an imaginary story for these old things.
This summarises the last year of my creative practice, possibly the oddest time of my life.
At the beginning of March 2020 I went to see the Paula Rego exhibition in Edinburgh and, on returning home, I realised that I had been drawn to the expressive way in which she depicts hands. Almost all the characters were posed with their hands visible and they were portrayed as a microcosm of the expressive mood of the whole – I was fascinated. This led me to refer to the drawing of the Old Masters, from Leonardo to Van Gogh, and I realised that the depiction of hands in the history of art tends to be hands in action, hands gesticulating.
Since the first lockdown in 2020 I have been lucky enough to have much more time in my studio. Our business ground to a halt and this proved an opportunity to engage more fully with my creative practice. Inspired by Paula Rego, someone whose drawing and powerful feminist vision I admire, I asked my husband to pose as my model and began a series of drawings of his hands. Hands, not in action, but in repose.
As the spring continued, I created a series of drawings of hands, from sketchbook to large imperial sized drawings, some created by tying chalk to a cane. It became clear that hands had become a powerful icon for the sensory communication we all need and that haptic communication is a crucial part of our human experience. We were prevented from touching our loved ones and had to wash our hands continuously. For me, hands had became a symbol for our experience of Covid and of lockdown.
During the summer of 2020 I was invited to take part in a local, funded project based on the concept of ‘Consequences’ named ‘Highland Whispers’. It was commissioned as part of the Royal National Mòd and I was one of five creatives from different disciplines asked to respond to the five senses whilst in isolation. In turn I received work from the others. I chose the concertina format, partly because it was easy to post, but also because it is a favourite form which enables me to work en plain air with a compact kit of materials. By the end of the project I had made five concertinas of the same size but of very different subjects and mood.
They now appear on a website being launched on April 26th to coincide with an exhibition in Ullapool at
“My father died forty years ago. We have a pair of ravens nesting near our house and every time one of the pair sits in a tree, calling, I like to imagine it is my father keeping a protective eye over us. We frequently see them, either together or as singletons, flying over the garden. You can hear the rustle of their feathers as they pass. It always surprises me how close they sound, especially when you see how high they fly.”
“I worked on top of a set of old drawings that I had torn into the correct size to give a sense of the past and layers of experience.“
“We live next to a glen that is said to have been the home of more than three hundred souls but which now has no evidence of habitation except for one ruin. I started my work by visiting the ruin. Local mythology tells of a murder committed there. By spending the day, walking and then drawing, I opened myself, with the help of meditation, to the atmosphere. I sensed a feeling of dis-ease but who knows what I already carried with me in terms of expectation and projection.“
People often visit the Highlands with the belief that we live in virgin landscape, wild country with no past except for nature. How wrong they are. Our hills are filled with human history and they have probably not been as empty as they are now for millennia. Human intervention is in evidence everywhere and now often managed by people who don’t venture out and enact government policy with drones and a computer from a desk. New fencing marches across hills as grants are administered for landscape restoration with little knowledge of the specific place. Humans were replaced by sheep but the sheep have now left and are replaced with deer as a few privileged people galavant round the hills in the name of sport. The flora is impoverished, the fauna dwindles and the Highlands fulfils the saying of Frank Fraser Darling when he described it as a “wet desert.”
I have chosen to accompany my piece with a recording of the call of the curlew, a bird now placed on the “red list” as a bird of conservation concern, category 4 (the worst).
So this piece is dedicated to the people and the birds who once lived in the Highland glens and in particular Glen Gour in the parish of Ardgour, Lochaber.
I have chosen to make my piece about moss and its evocative smell.
The concertina book is laminated with the pages of the International Oak Society, Membership Directory 2003-2004. I chose to use these old pages as a reference to the concept of the past and of memory.
The subject is the Oak Woodland that we have here and the piece was made from drawings done in the Ariundle Nature Reserve, part of the Sunart Oakwoods Initiative, Ardnamurchan and Morvern.
We have all been overtaken by events and overwhelmed by the unexpected. For some it has had tragic consequences; for others is has caused untold anxiety and stress. There is no one who is not affected. This has never happened in my lifetime and I am sixty four. Like war but not a war, it all began with a sense of unreality. I have read about the phoney war of September of 1939. Glorious weather and everyone waiting. This is how the beginning of the pandemic felt here on the west coast of Scotland during the month of March.
Lock Down has had a profound effect on me and as most European countries now emerge, I have begun to reflect on what I have done and how I have used the time. Today I awoke feeling ungrounded, an unusual feeling when living here as there is always so much to do. It was useful because it made me reflect and write a list of what I have done to fill the last three months.
“bracken whacking gardening drawing reading weeding vegetable growing talking to my son chatting with my grandson on zoom sewing masks for family and friends cooking with foraged food walking on the beach with the dog sea swimming white wine zoom yoga three times a week collective household cleaning once a week speaking with friends to check they are safe and well listening to birdsong watching the fledglings on the bird table putting on weight”
It is over nine months since I wrote the last post here and I feel as if life and work have changed and developed without maintaining a record. Perhaps I doubt the validity of baring my soul to the world with the vain delusion of remaining private?
The internet induces us into new forms of behaviour as we constantly hear on the news. I must confess to feeling ambivalent. It is undoubtedly a generational thing for those of us who passed our formative years with pencil and paper. It is as if we pretend to be home-alone with our screens, exposing parts of our thinking and feeling whilst deluding ourselves that we are alone, when in fact we are on a worldwide network. The medium has obviously exposed a vulnerability in the human mammal which is deeply complex and private whilst we also have a herd inclination and instinct. Luckily I dont often suffer from loneliness despite living an isolated life and on the odd occasion when I venture out into the wider world, am amazed and somewhat appalled at the ways people behave and how we treat one another. No coincidence then, that I have wound up on this sea washed shore, a hundred miles from the nearest city.
Since last April, 2019, when I embarked on printmaking for ‘Bug Life’ I have continued my fund raising effort. They have a new website and an Anna Raven page;
As I write my total now stands at £911.90 and as I explained, I aim for £1000. The land fill tax, match funds all donations in a ratio of 10-1 so £10,000 is not bad as a contribution to the conservation of intervertbrates!My enthusiasm has led me from postcards to teacloths with fine art prints and one off tiles. One gallery has framed the tiles individually without the glass, another made shelves along which the tiles were propped. I had great success with eco warrior Christmas Shopping!The big plan was to have an exhibition which would include a wall of tiles; fifty frogs by Charlotte Mellis shown alongside fifty of my beetles. I wrote a preposal entitled Endangered and was delighted to have it accepted. This time to be shown in a public space funded by Creative Scotland, a first for me. Sadly, despite my excitement and enthusiasm, the exhibtion was cancelled as I have had a woeful winter of illness and misdemenours and with the amount of work involved at short notice, I couln’t possibly have done it in time.During the couple of years that I have been making this work, I have experienced something new. I have been lucky to have had a very positive response from a wide selection of people, many of whom are not especially interested in painting. They have enjoyed the graphic imagery and the contribution to a cause they are enthusiastic to support. The positive response is enormously supportive but it is also confusing. Perhaps there is a place for both? I have really enjoyed fund raising for a cause I believe in and it is one way that with my skills, I can draw attention to an eminent crisis and encourage others to engage with it, without taking to the barricades.
In a recent news headline we were all warned of the demise of the natural world and in particular that of invertebrates. They are dying out at a more rapid rate than any other life form and we are hurtling towards a world with few pollinating insects. Surely this will be the end of the world as we know it?
On hearing this shocking news I approached the charity “Bug Life” and offered to promote their work with the sale of my prints. Having already embarked on a series of tiles based on beetles I decided to extend my interest by designing a series of small lino cuts of the same subject, interested in the visual difference between one medium and another.
Within twenty four hours “Bug Life” made me a page on their website with a donate button (https://www.buglife.org.uk/get-involved/fundraise/anna-raven) and for every ten pounds donated, I have sent the donor an artists print of a beetle. So far there is a collection off four beetles but this will increase as I become ever more fascinated by the subject.
I have been gratified and encouraged to discover how well received my beetles have been and so far I have raised £430.
Last summer (2017) I was asked by a potter if I would like to collaborate and go to work with her in her studio on Mull. Charlotte Mellis had seen my painting and the marks resonated with her as a painterly approach, something she applies to tile, thrown or moulded surfaces. It took us a year to find a mutually convenient time and so eventually, this summer, in June, I went to the Isle of Mull to stay with friends and to work with Charlotte for ten days.
We had an extremely productive time. Charlotte had inherited some moulds from her aunt, the potter, Ann Stokes. Arcadian moulds for charming animal and bird tiles which Charlotte decorates in a lively naive style. She has resurrected them and makes tiles again in memory of her aunt.
When asked what I would like to do, I thought tiles would be a good beginning; not too much technique required so I could focus on decoration. I took a series of linocuts I had made twenty years earlier and had cut them whilst doing a ceramics course in Bath, applying print to clay as a form of embossed decoration. I began by using these blocks at the same time as carving a mould with the motif taken from a piece of embroidery given to me in my childhood.
Aunt Mary was my fathers eldest sister who lived near us when I was a child. She always took an interest in me from an early age as I too am the eldest in my family. We developed a close relationship. At some point in my early teens, she sold her house and moved to Wiltshire. She gave me a desk which had belonged to her mother, my paternal grandmother, whom I never met as she died long before I was born. To my amazement inside the desk she had placed a number of things which I am sure she intended me to have although to my embarrassment I don’t think we ever discussed it. It was like a treasure trove to a young woman and I continue to cherish them still. There was a shawl, green silk with woollen embroidery which I wore until I spoilt it by washing, but still have. There was an oval portrait profile of an unknown man framed in a domed glass, later broken by an uncle who wanted to see if there was a name inside; there were some Victorian fashion plates of models dressed in themed costumes like shells, vegetables or fish and the last thing I found was a delicate piece of embroidery wrapped in plastic and stretched over card. It is a charming stylised natural scene, tree, flowers, butterflies, snails and a slug reminiscent of a detail in medieval tapestry. I have subsequently discovered it is a Jacobean book cover. It is delicately coloured and is stitched in silk.
When working with linocuts, years ago, I transferred the design of this embroidery with the intention of cutting another block. This I found amongst the other plates in an old carrier bag and it has now become the subject of a series of tiles. The series will be called a Tribute to Aunt Mary and now form part of a new project.
Whilst with Charlotte on Mull she invited me to work with her on a painting project, applying slip, a liquid pigmented clay, to a large flat surface. We rolled out the slab in sections, joining them to cover a table top and laid ontop of pieces of torn sheet giving us a way of moving the slab. We chose a palette and some lovely new brushes. Charlotte had bought the brushes ten years earlier, made from Yak hair and mounted in horn to make the handle. The hair of the brush was nearly a foot long and when charged with slip, made a florid mark. We decorated the slab in under ten minutes using our fingers to add detail. Later, when dry, we cut the slab and laid each piece carefully into a mould where they stayed to harden and for us to finish the edge. It was an exciting experiment and I enjoyed the process but I soon learnt that clay retains a memory and when fired, they resumed their flattened form and so we inadvertently now have an interesting collection of cheese boards. I cut the remnants into squares as coasters for our holiday let and now have a fine dish exhibited on a stand at the top of our staircase.
Now we have embarked on another project, a set of tiles based on insects and amphibians.
Our intention is to have an exhibition of “A Hundred Tiles”, hung like an installation on a large wall.
As the summer wore on Charlotte took me to lunch to meet some friends from London.
We had an interesting conversation about creativity and one of the guests was an art therapist. Our conversation made me realise how anxious I had become about my painting practice and they reported that the recognised way of unblocking creative blocks was to change media. Inadvertently I have stumbled into another material which has proved to be very relaxing and enjoyable.