As an artist, I like to play. Literally. If I am not having fun making a piece, then what is the point?

Don’t get me wrong, I take the act of creation very seriously, but if I can play with different techniques or materials, to give the work a new texture or look, I will try it. A friend once told me that I was getting “too good” at a particular style. I knew what she meant. I was not “playing” and the work, while technically proficient, was lacking a spark. So I tried something different and the work shifted gear, becoming more exciting to make and more intriguing to look at.

That intention has allowed the work to change over the years. People are often interested to see a piece of mine from 30 years ago, often saying, “Wow! That doesn’t look anything like the work you are doing now.” Actually, the work I am doing now is simply an evolution. Of course, I have been there for the entire journey so I see exactly the shared characteristics.

From my Cartography series

A couple of years ago I had a small exhibition of work that I called my ‘Cartography” series. I had an idea to return to a process I dabble with occasionally, using wax crayons and ink. There is nothing spectacular to it, most children in school have done it in kindergarten. Simply draw an image with the wax and then cover it with black ink. The ink won’t stick to the wax, so one gets an image of the drawing brightly standing out against a black background.

My intention was to take something everybody can do, yet elevate it to a slightly higher artistic level (at least I hope I have the skill to do that. I guess that’s for the viewer to decide).

Of course, I used a high-quality ink which meant that, instead of sliding off the wax crayon it covered it all. No problem, I simply used razor blade to scrape the top layer of the way and removing the excess ink (I had left areas open to create black lines on the design).

The Cartography series is inspired by archaeology and the concept of hidden layers of history — burial grounds, ancient villages — that we will never see, a whole history beneath our feet that we will never know.

excavation2So with the ink covering all the color, I had no choice but to literally dig out the hidden image. The art elevated itself through the “happy accident” to be more of what I wanted.

This summer I decided to take some time to create small, affordable pieces that would be suitable for markets and festivals. I had read several articles about how the drought in Europe had revealed the footprints of lost villages, especially in reservoirs and fields. This worked with my concept and I imagine a series of floor plans for villages and hamlets (growing up in England, someone was always digging up some lost Roman fort or Viking village somewhere while excavating for a shopping center or tower block).

Roman Farm, Bicton, Devon. The central enclosure may have contained farm buildings, and then more fields and paddocks were attached to the central area. This form of settlement probably dates to the Roman period (photo by Damian Grady, copyright Historic England)

I decided to do some line drawings in white with black ink, similar to the multi-colored creations. This time the ink drifted off and the white revealed the image. Then I decided to try some colored ink.

I drew in white (which, by the way, is really difficult on white paper and required me crouching down so I could use the sunlight reflecting off the wax to see where the lines were). The colored ink, which was thick and vibrant, covered the entire area, not at all what I expected. As I did not have large areas of color, I decided to take the edge of the razor blade and try to find the hidden lines and dig them out — literally excavating the piece.


The effect was wonderful. My lines are normally quite crisp and defined, but this forced me to scratch them out, giving the drawings a completely different texture. The more I dug out these hidden villages, the more I wanted to make.

I followed up the drawings with a painting. Instead of white underneath, I scratched the design into the web paint and filled in the resulting marks with white paint.

So as a result of play, a new series begins — the same, but slightly different. Where the work goes from here, who knows. I’ll just play around and see what happens.

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