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.
AMT.18.07.001. Swallowtail butterfly. Drawing on copper plate
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.
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.
Group of flowers modelled in wax from nature. John Haynes Mintorn (1824-88) London, about 1875. Wax, wire and cloth
‘Russia Collection’ evening gown. Jean Paul Gaultier (b.1952) Paris, 1997. Taffeta with beads simulating leopard fur and rhinestone claws
X-ray showing hat and starling. Hat – Modes du Louvre, Paris about 1885. X-ray photography by Nick Veasey 2016
Fan. Britain 1880-1900. Turtle shell, ostrich feathers probably from South Africa and silk.
‘Floral Helmet’ Philip Treacy (b.1967) London, 2016. Cotton, velvet, silk, and waxed flowers
Engraved clear Perspex handbag, possibly made in France, early 1950s
Earrings. Brazil, about 1875. Male red-legged honeycreeper
Dress. Britain 1868-9. Cotton, gilded metal thread and Indian jewel beetles. Over 5000 beetle wings were used to decorate this dress
‘Bird-witched’ shoes. Masaya Kushino (b.1982) Japan, 2014. Nile crocodile, gilded metal and cockerel feathers
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.
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.
I’ve been to Kew on many occasions to work in the herbarium with the curatorial staff or visit the collections behind the scenes, but the schedule has always been tight and there has never been enough spare time for me to take a good look around the gardens. That’s why I was delighted to visit again last week for the Handmade at Kew 2017 show which took place in the Kew Palace Lawn Pavilion. It was a chance to see some world class contemporary crafts and an opportunity to meet the talented makers and talk about the influences and processes behind their work. The show coincided with the final few days of the Sculpt at Kew exhibition, with 30 artists presenting figurative, abstract and modern sculptures in an outdoor trail throughout the beautiful gardens.
I was also able to spend time exploring the fabulous rain forest plants and iconic Victorian architecture of the Palm House, the ten different environments in the Princess of Wales Conservatory and the 17 foot tall multi-sensory bee experience called The Hive.
Kew Gardens has the largest and most diverse collection of living plants in the world, so I’ve still only seen the smallest part of it and I’d love to see more. I’ll have to visit again soon!