Making a difference with The Design Trust

I’m delighted to announce that on Friday 22nd May from 2-3pm I’ll be joining Patricia van den Akker in a live interview as part of The Design Trust’s ‘Make a Difference – Online Creative Festival – Women with a Purpose’.

Ahead of the event, I was asked a few questions which I’ve answered in a behind-the-scenes blog post, published on The Design Trust website. I talk about being a quiet child, scoliosis, vacuuming badgers and what the recent Collect Open 2020 exhibition meant to me. It’s available to read here.

Throughout the month of May the festival will showcase several inspiring women discussing the What, Why and How of their creative practices. It’s been a fabulous event so far and I hope that my interview will give an added boost of inspiration to fellow festival goers!

If you’re interested in purchasing a ticket for the ‘Make a Difference’ festival you can find more details here. All interviews will be recorded and available until the end of 2020.

Collect Open 2020 a few days to go…

With only a few days to go until the Crafts Council Collect 2020 International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design at Somerset House, my Collect Open beeswax wildflower installation is now complete and I’m able to share a little more information about the project and the finished artwork.

My Collect Open project has been made using traditional wax modelling techniques from honey bee wax provided by Assistant Professor Scott McArt, at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, New York.

The wax that I’ve used for sculpting was collected by Scott from around 10 different honey bee colonies in central New York, some at the Dyce Lab for Honey Bee Studies and some from hobby beekeepers near the University. One sample was also taken from a commercial beekeeper who’s bees had just been used for commercial blueberry pollination in New Jersey. The beekeeper noticed that his bees were not doing well after pollinating the blueberries, so he sent wax, pollen, and dead honey bee pupae from his colonies to the lab for analysis.

The results of the analysis, conducted at the Cornell Chemical Ecology Core Facility, show an extensive list of pesticide residues in the wax samples. There is also a marked difference between the number of pesticides found in the wax samples taken from the hives used for commercial pollination services and those from hobby beekeepers.

You can view the full list of results here:

As my wildflower sculptures contain physical traces of these pesticide residues, I will be listing them clearly as the artist’s materials used to create my installation. (It is interesting to note that if Scott had sent me different wax samples from honey bees used for commercial almond pollination in California, my list of artist’s materials would have doubled in size.)

Beeswax has traditionally been used in the creation of scientific models for education and botanical sculpture became particularly popular during the advent of the public museum in the 19th century. Artists were able to use the life like quality and translucency of the medium to create realistic and beautiful representations of plants for gallery displays, in order to engage visitors with scientific discovery.

Here are just a few of the historic beeswax plant sculptures from the scientific collections at National Museum Wales.

My work for Collect Open 2020 continues this tradition, aiming to raise awareness of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals and the transfer of these chemicals from agricultural crops to wildflowers and pollinators, promoting discussion on the man-made issues which have contributed to the global decline of pollinating insects.

My installation of beeswax wildflower sculptures will be presented in a custom made jewellery box with the title Treasure. This can be interpreted in several different ways; as a noun meaning a collection of very valuable things, or a verb meaning to take great care of something because you love it or consider it very valuable. It also refers to a wealth which is hidden or buried, giving the viewer a hint to the value of the scientific information hidden in the beeswax samples.

Treasure poses the questions, what should we collect, protect and keep safe? What precious things will be of the greatest importance and value as we begin to understand the scale of change in this era of the Anthropocene?

Dr Sott McArt and his bees

For questions about the pesticide residue analysis on the honey bee wax samples or the research and extension activities at the McArt lab, you can contact Dr. Scott McArt directly by email shm33@cornell.edu or via Twitter @MaArtLab.

Collect Open 2020 one month to go…

I’ve spent the last few months working solidly on my beeswax wildflower installation for Collect Open and the piece is really taking shape, so with one month to go until the fair, I thought it was a good time to share a little more of the making process.

For the installation I’ll be arranging my sculptures in compartments and drawers within a transparent jewellery box. The first stage was to design and make a cardboard mock-up of the box to see how the sculptures might fit in each space.

When I was happy with the design, it was drawn up in a 3D sketch and then manufactured in clear acrylic.

I knew that it would be a challenge to make the sculptures over the winter months when very few plants were in flower. Therefore, I began collecting, documenting and pressing flowers in late summer and autumn to give myself as much reference material as possible for the duration of my project.

Over the winter when I couldn’t access fresh material, I was able to visit and photograph the pressed plants in the herbarium at National Museum Wales and I also used my ever growing collection of botanical books for reference.

 

The wildflower sculptures in my Collect Open installation are made from beeswax supplied by Assistant Professor Dr Scott McArt at Cornell University, New York. Samples were collected by Scott from the bee hives at the Dyce Lab for Honey Bee Research and then analysed by David Sossa (technician) and Nico Baert (lead chemist) in the chemistry facility.

 

The beeswax was then shipped to my studio in Wales, where I melted it down ready for sculpting.

Once I had prepared the wax, I began the delicate work of sculpting the wildflowers, using traditional techniques to make stems, petals, sepals and leaves from waxed wire, silk and paper. 

Here are just a few of the finished beeswax wildflower sculptures which will be displayed together in the acrylic jewellery box.

I’ll be posting a sneak preview of the finished piece in a few weeks time but if you’d like to see my Collect Open installation in person, it will be on display from 27th February – 1st March in the East Wing of Somerset House on stand E6. If you’re visiting the fair please do drop by and say hello! Tickets are available to purchase from the Crafts Council website.

Collect Open 2020 site visit to Somerset House

Last week was my first site visit to Somerset House, where I and the other Collect Open artists were accompanied by the Crafts Council team on a tour of the East and West Wings of the building, to see the exact location of our allocated display spaces. In 2020 the Collect Open artists’ work will be presented in a different format to that of the previous years, with the carefully curated installations interspersed amongst the exhibiting Craft Galleries at the Collect fair. I was delighted to find out that I will be sharing a stunning space on the ground floor of the East wing along with another artist who’s thoughtful and sensitive work will resonate with mine.. (more details to come later!)

 

Collect Open 2020

I’m thrilled to announce that I have been selected as a Collect Open artist and will be exhibiting at Collect 2020, the International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design. 
Organised by the Crafts Council, Collect is the only gallery-presented art fair dedicated to modern craft and design and will take place at Somerset House, from 27 February – 1 March 2020. As a Collect Open artist, I will be creating one of the ambitious craft-lead installations, a display of handmade wildflower sculptures using traditional beeswax flower making techniques. I’m delighted to be working again in collaboration on this new project with Dr. Scott McArt, Assistant Professor of Entomology at Cornell University, New York, and I’ll be posting regular updates to show the making process and development of the piece as it progresses.  

You can find further information about Collect 2020 and the full list of participating Collect Open artists in the Crafts Council press release.  

Catch up with Countryfile on BBC iPlayer

If you missed the South Wales episode of Countryfile, featuring my botanical wax sculptures and the scientific collections which inspire my work, you can now catch up on the BBC iPlayer. You can see me chatting to Ellie Harrison at 43.28 and the programme is available until 2nd July. I hope you enjoy it!

My Forget-me-not wax sculpture which was featured on the South Wales episode of Countryfile, next to some real Forget-me-not specimens

Filming with the BBC One Countryfile team

Last Thursday I spent a lovely day filming with Ellie Harrison and the BBC One Countryfile team. We looked at the inspiration behind my natural history artwork, visiting the wildflowers at Howardian Nature Reserve and the scientific collections behind the scenes at the National Museum Cardiff. Then we went back to my garden studio where Ellie and I had a go at making a celandine flower from beeswax. It was so interesting to meet such a professional team and see all the work that goes into the creation of a television programme. Tune in to see the whole Countryfile feature on BBC One, Sunday 2nd June at 7pm.

Making a Wild strawberry sculpture from honey bee wax. A scientific art collaboration with Cornell University, New York.

In November 2017 I attended the Cross-pollination, Revaluing Pollinators through Arts and Science Collaboration conference at Swansea College of Art. The conference marked the end of a successful and pioneering project funded by both the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Arts Council of Wales, combining Art with Science to explore new insight into perceptions of the value of honeybees and wild pollinators.

As an artist I’ve spent most of my career working alongside scientists on science communication projects and my current work focuses on the protection of nature and features pollinating insects, so the project was of great interest to me.

At the conference I heard many fascinating lectures and discussions but it was my chance conversation with Assistant Professor Scott McArt, from the
Entomology Department at Cornell University, that sparked a creative idea which has developed into a collaborative piece of artwork, soon to be exhibited in the new PolliNation exhibition at the Mann Gallery in Cornell.

Scott’s NYS Beekeeper Tech Team at Cornell had been conducting research to promote best management practices to improve honey bee health and reduce colony losses. The team had been examining pesticide levels in wax from honey bee colonies in New York State and had collected many wax samples which were analysed and shown to contain pesticide residues. The honey bees had been visiting wildflowers which were contaminated with agrochemicals and transferring those chemicals to their wax. I specialise in creating botanical sculptures with wax, a skill that I learnt whilst caring for a unique collection of over 1000 wax models in the Amgueddfa Cymru scientific collections. The idea for the artwork was to use the beeswax containing pesticide residues as an artist’s material to create sculptures of the contaminated wildflowers. The pesticides residues would be listed clearly as the materials used to create the work, thus communicating Scott’s research in a subtle and powerful way.

I decided to start by creating some test pieces to see how feasible it would be to work with the Cornell wax. Scott was able to post me some wax samples from his lab, which I melted down to remove any traces of honey, then coloured and sculpted into flower forms. The wax was very flexible and easy to work with in comparison to the refined white beeswax that I normally use.

Time lapse video showing the beeswax honeycomb which was supplied by Scott’s lab at Cornell University, melting in my wax melting pot.

Creating a celandine test piece using honey beeswax from Scott’s lab at Cornell University.
The finished Celandine test piece made from beeswax on the left and the real Celandine flower specimen on the right.

The next stage of the project was to choose which wild flowers to represent in the final piece of artwork. I was able to look at reports from the NYS Beekeeper Tech Team on pesticide residues and data from Scott’s lab on pesticides in wildflowers that are adjacent to apple orchards New York. One of the wildflowers listed was Fragaria vesca, Wild strawberry, which contained one of the highest levels of total pesticides recorded in parts per billion. I decided to focus on this plant not only because it was loaded with pesticides, but also because it was a common wildflower in both the Ithaca region of New York State and here in South Wales. Luckily I had some wild strawberry plants growing in my front garden which I was able to use as fresh reference material, even if it was winter and there were no fruits or flowers to be seen!

Wild strawberry plant specimen collected from the front garden of my home in Cardiff.

I also visited the vascular plant herbarium at Amgueddfa Cymru, National Museum Wales to take photographs and record measurements of dried and pressed Fragaria vesca specimens collected in America and the UK.

Fragaria vesca, Wild strawberry – pressed, dried and mounted herbarium specimens from National Herbarium of Wales at Amgueddfa Cymru, National Museum Cardiff.

The final sculpture took several weeks to complete. I created moulds from the fresh plant leaves in my garden with silicone and plaster, which I then cast in coloured molten wax. I made stems and plant runners from waxed tinned copper wire, and petals, sepals and stamens from waxed silk fabric and threads. The strawberry fruits were made from wax coated dressmaking beads and I attached tiny plant hairs made from silk to the stems and leaves. The sculpture was finished with acrylic paints and varnishes and displayed in Pyrex glass measuring beakers in reference to the scientific nature of the work.

Making the flowers from waxed sheets of silk.
Strawberry fruits made from dressmaking beads coated in molten wax and attached to waxed wire stems.
Leaves made from wax brushed into plaster and silicone moulds. Plant runners made from waxed wires.
Time lapse video of me making moulds of the wild strawberry leaves from my garden with Plaster of Paris and silicone rubber.

This is the finished piece and the accompanying title which describes all the materials that I used to create the work.

Fragaria vesca, Wild Strawberry.

Materials – Beeswax, pesticide residues in the beeswax (piperonyl butoxide, fenpyroximate*, metolachlor*, azoxystrobin*, coumaphos, pyraclostrobin*, cyprodinil*, trifloxystrobin*, fluopyram* and atrazine), tinned copper wire, tissue paper, dressmaking beads, cotton thread, silk fabric, dry ground artists’ pigments, acrylic paints, acrylic varnish.  

*These pesticide residues were also found on nearby strawberry flowers.

The finished sculpture.

Finally the sculpture had to be packed very carefully for its journey to Cornell University. I placed it in a strong cardboard box and secured it with dressmaking pins and Plastazote supports to prevent any movement. It is due to be taken in hand luggage on a flight to America next week by one of the project artists, so it’s certainly getting some special treatment and will hopefully arrive in good condition ready to be set up in the display.

The PolliNation exhibition at the Mann Gallery runs from April 15th until 30th September 2019.
 
Many thanks to the artists, Linda Norris for inviting me to the Cross-Pollination conference and Sarah Tombs and the Swansea College of Art, Art/Science group for kindly including my work in the Cornell Mann Gallery display. Thanks also to the scientists, Assistant Professor Scott McArt for giving me the opportunity to create a piece of artwork from his research and to the National Museum Wales botany curator Sally Whyman for sharing her expert knowledge of the collections.

The Art Shop & Chapel, Abergavenny

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Pauline Griffiths, owner of The Art Shop and Chapel in the market town of Abergavenny. I’m thrilled to announce that she’ll be showing my work at her gallery, in the lovingly restored 16th Century Town House on Cross Street, as part of the 2019 Abergavenny Art’s festival in June. It is such a special venue, with artworks thoughtfully displayed amongst household objects in a domestic interior setting. Many thanks to the event organisers for putting me in touch with Pauline, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to create a collection of pieces especially for this beautiful gallery.

Swallowtail butterfly commission. A case study.

Last summer I was commissioned to make a special piece of artwork to celebrate a client’s big birthday. She has a passion for nature, gardening, walking, and interiors, and she wanted something a specific size to fit above the fireplace in her living room. She asked if I could make one of her favourite insects, a swallowtail butterfly, etched into a sheet of copper.

I regularly visit the Entomology collections at the National Museum Cardiff to take research photographs for my work, and I had already taken many images of their stunning butterfly collection. (I must have quite a passion for them too!) I was able to show my client the photographs so she could choose a favourite one as a reference for the artwork, then I ordered a custom made copper sheet to her specifications and began work.

The first stage was to sketch the butterfly on the copper sheet in a resist material, so when it went into the etching bath, it remained as a raised image on the surface of the metal. I also marked the plate with my own reference code, made up of my initials, the year, the month, and a three digit sequential number for that month. This is something I usually do with all my etchings, not only as a record for myself but in reference to the numbering systems used for the museum collections where I find my inspiration.

After etching, I oxidised the metal to blacken the entire surface. I sometimes create bright colours on the surface of my copper pieces by using different techniques, but this time I wanted the background to be mostly deep blacks and greys to let the shining butterfly image take centre stage.

I then started to scratch and sand the textures and tiny details into the surface of the metal with wire wool, sandpaper and a needlepoint tool. I photographed each stage and sent email updates to my client so she could be involved in the process, making decisions and seeing the piece develop as I went along.

The finished artwork was coated with several layers of UV resistant varnish and mounted in a traditional style frame to suit my client’s interior style.

On completion, I was overjoyed to receive a review of the artwork from my client… I think she was very happy with her special birthday commission!

Summer visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park: a quest to see Mister Finch’s textile art

I have long been a fan of the magical textile creations of Mister Finch, so when I heard about his solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, I knew I had to visit! Luckily I was able to plan a trip over the summer as part of a family holiday and I’m so glad that I did. Each character in ‘The Wish Post‘ display, from toadstools to woodland creatures, has been brought to life with recycled materials and found accessories, and given a role in the artist’s fairy tale story.  It was fantastic to finally see the detailed sculptures of this humble and talented maker first hand.

I was also able to walk for miles around the fields, lake and forest of the beautiful sculpture park, following the trail to find some truly inspiring artwork along the way. The highlight of my visit was walking into the chapel courtyard and being able to see and touch the cold cast metal surface of Ai Weiwei’s ‘Iron Tree‘. Then entering the 18th century chapel building itself to see Chiharu Shiota’s ‘Beyond Time‘ installation of woven white threads; a breathtaking experience.

Mister Finch: ‘The Wish Post’ is open until Sunday 23rd September and Chiharu Shiota: ‘Beyond Time’ is open until 4th November.  Ai Weiwei’s ‘Iron Tree’ is part of the YSP open air collection along with the other sculptures featured in my images.  A visit to this wonderful park is highly recommended.

‘Fashioned from Nature’ at the V&A

During my latest trip to London I was able to visit the ‘Fashioned from Nature‘ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I was excited to see the display for several reasons, I have a degree in textile design, a love of nature and many years’ experience working with natural science collections in the museum sector, so an exhibition that combines these passions was always going to be at the top of my list. But the display is not just an incredible collection of objects, it tells a complex story of the relationship between the fashion industry and nature from 1600 to the present day. It shows how the beauty of the natural world has inspired fashion designers, how natural materials are processed to create fabrics and used to adorn garments and it illustrates clearly the negative impact that the fashion industry and we as consumers continue to make on the natural world. The exhibition is powerful and inspiring, and I will certainly be thinking more about my fashion choices in the future.

 

A new space to work – welcome to my garden art studio!

At the end of 2017 the foundations were dug and building work started on my new garden art studio.  The build took longer than expected with delays over the winter months because of the wet and snowy weather. The Beast from the East and Storm Emma came and went, then when the weather finally dried up in March, my sliding glass doors were fitted. Since then I’ve painted the walls and the floor, moved my furniture in and organised all my art materials and books. I have a tiny wood burning stove called ‘The Hobbit’ inside the studio which belts out the heat on the cold days and a rain chain water feature outside under the eaves which makes the wet days more fun!

There are still some things to do, shelves to put up and the garden to rebuild but when that’s all complete I’ll be having an official opening celebration with family and friends. It’s a beautiful bright space where I feel inspired to create new things. I couldn’t be happier with it and I’m looking forward to many happy years of working here.

 

Bumblebees and mushrooms at Paris House Restaurant

I’m pleased to announce that my artwork is now on sale at the stunning Michelin recommended, Paris House Restaurant in Bedfordshire. I had the pleasure of delivering my work in person and meeting the owner and executive chef, Phil Fanning, who told me about the incredible history of the Tudor style building, which was originally constructed for the Paris International Exhibition in 1878. The 9th Duke of Bedford, who fell in love with Paris House, had it dismantled and shipped back to the Woburn estate, where it now sits in 22 acres of deer parkland. The restaurant has recently been refurbished and features an art wall that showcases a seasonal edit of food related art by some exceptional makers. The restaurant team chose my wax fungi dioramas and bee etchings for their display and we have further plans to create bespoke artwork based upon leaves collected in the park grounds.