art artists books

putting things together

I’m now running out of space in my studio for my body – every surface is heaped, including the floor, the chairs, the tables, the shelves, the drawers…

The picture shows the pile on my desk which is touching my left elbow as I write.

It is a few of the things I am putting together in my mind today: I had very many photos printed, glossy ones with twilight views of the mountain, and I want to try and find a way to integrate them into an artists’ book form with my drawings and writing.

So far so good – although really speaking, this is basically a slightly formalised pile. So at this thought there was doubt, and a light despair, and then a good friend of mine suggested that I look at the work of an artist called Helen Carnac, and I found that she has said the following wonderful and enlightening thing in an interview with ‘Norwegian Crafts’, about the work of moving things around, putting things next to one another:

‘I’m interested in combining things, showing how they move or change in relation to each other. In reality, this is a staging of the relations between things. To move things around has almost become a mantra in my artistic practice. This movement also includes me, whenever I leave the studio to participate in various projects.’

art drawing

words and drawings

Today trying out words and drawings together.

I’m quite hopeful about this, these are three test pieces that I made with some small drawings that were lying on the workbench – I’ve written them with moveable-type letterpress letters that I’ve borrowed.

You can see the metal moveable-type in the picture. You probably have seen these – they are little metal blocks with a reversed letter on one end which used to be used for printing books and magazines, by setting them out into blocks (trays) and then inking and passing through a printing press.

I printed from the blocks directly and by hand, by coating them first with oil-based relief printing ink. Just the smell of print-making ink makes it a good day for me.



Both today and yesterday, I stopped on my way home from work. Same hour, same place.

Yesterday, golden light slipping over everything, warm and soft. I sat and shared a rock with a thorn tree and just enjoyed the warmth, the moment, dazzlement of sun, greening shoots, redness of bracken, blackness of soil.

Today I hurried through, pushed by a cold unfriendly wind. The sky was overcast and all colours faded out, vegetation winter-burnt and retreating back, only blackbirds keeping low in the bushes were still believing in the spring.

Strange contrasts, but not surprising; the universe is stranger than we like to think it. Completely wild, and in no way tame, even in its local and quite ordinary manifestations like sky, wind, rock, grass, bird, person.

artists books painting

night desk

Just spending a moment tonight looking through what I have made earier today, and wondering where to start next tomorrow. (Answer – one thing at a time, one day at a time, start with colour mixing.)

Aims for tomorrow and the week:

To explore. To step outside of comfortable. To not be precious. To not hold on to things. To step towards my audience. To begin. To carry through. To immerse myself in the work. To enjoy the process.

artists books painting

two paintings

The windows in my room face west, and today the sun streamed in, just at five o’clock, lighting up the chair where I was propping up some test paintings.

These paintings are done with watercolour, coffee and ink. I like the coffee because it half resists, half mixes with the paints, but its mucky, especially on absorbent paper like this, so I’m not sure what to do about that. I’ll do some colour testing next – to try and refine things.

I am playing in my mind with different book forms, and am thinking of folding the second of these into a concertina folding book to see whether that is a good move.

light photography

evening light

I went out again to the mountain this evening. I realised that the pure consistency of showing up there, day after day, is in itself valuable, and worth at least as much as anything else that I do.

Although the grasses, reeds and thorn trees are still sparse and dry after the cold, there has been a gradual change, a lifting of the winter. There is a smell of spring and of soil. Today I lay down on a mossy hummock and listened to the birds in the thickets.

I am fascinated by the photos that I take as the light is falling away and things are disappearing, and I sent off today for many of my mountain photos of the last few months to be printed, to try to use them with the small drawings and paintings that I am making.

These ones seem like too much sweetness, but this is pretty close to what I saw – apart from some strange effects of the camera, and apart from the way that the sky goes right over and all the way around…

art painting

mixed media studies

I trimmed down the torn and yucky edges of all the small studies today – to look at them more easily, and without unintentional distractions. Looking at the thing I have made is part of the work – is work. Although it doesn’t look like I’m doing much.

The idea is to unfocussedly look, letting my mind wander into possibilities and into seeing them as if I don’t know them, and also to look in a more analytical mode at what I have got – to see what I want to take forward for the next batch.

Tomorrow’s work is to try and learn something and write down what it is that I have learned. Write some things I want to try next. After that, to start again, do some more on better pieces of paper.

reflection Uncategorized

a letter about work

I’m still writing letters to myself first thing every morning, as part of my contribution the wonderful upcoming letters project. Here is another letter – one which I wrote to myself on the weekend, based on a conversation which I had with the artist Jen Smith about our creative practices, and about a bird and an oak tree.

I read a really wonderful book called ‘Emergent Strategy‘ by adrienne maree brown, which encourages readers to learn from systems and patterns in the natural world, and I think the discussion and my letter were based on that work.


Dear Sian

Yesterday you compared yourself to a jay burying acorns, and although you started with the feeling that to be a jay is a bad thing, and a random scattering of energy, you may have stumbled into something that is worthwhile, and that could be true.

A few months ago, your friend S. told you that almost every oak tree in every forest and hedge is planted by jays. This is how it works: the jay hides the seeds – all around. Of course, many of the acorns will be put in places where they cannot grow, but a few will be planted in a perfect place. The bird remembers well, and later returns to eat the seeds, digging them, pulling up the flesh. But in the meantime, the acorn has put down a deep tap root, and although it releases its flesh, it holds its place in the ground, and has retained enough of what it needs to keep growing. Like this, the germ of the tree is rooted and ready for the spring.

This is very hard to think about, and relates to what you think work is, and how you think it happens. And to the mistakes you have made about that. […] You have always had a job, you have never been without one – and so it seems that a job is not only a matter of money, but is also a psychological prop for you. Because you sell yourself very short, that is also clear.

So what is needed now (this year), is not a job but your own work, and a way of trusting that if you do the work, things will grow. And you have started to understand that there is a possibility of something that feels true, and of abundant growth, and that the constant self-pruning that you have been about is not your work.

To return to the jay and the acorns. Am I the jay, or the oak, or the acorns, or what am I? Can we see them separate? Well of course the jay is a bird, it flies away while the tree stays rooted. But the tree needs the bird, the bird needs the tree; they are a process, an encounter.

The work of the bird, the scattering and burying (planting) is its own reward. Providing that it can remember, then it can return to retrieve, and the reward is the eating.

To be seen, to be part of something, to be needed. These are what will never go away, and what work may hope to satisfy.

So for the jay, the work is the reward. And the strategy of the jay is interesting, because it is broad-based. The acorns are not all buried in one place, but widely. This makes sense. For the tree, the strategy is very simple, to offer from its own flesh, and with sufficient abundance. And where the opportunity is open, to take root deeply and in good time. The bird will come back for its reward, that much is given; the acorn is the token of an exchange.

To summarise. To narrow down on one thing only – this is not my strategy. To withhold the offering – this is not my strategy. To root shallowly – this is not my strategy. To follow the strategies of the jay and the oak, there must be faith in abundance, there must be patience and an offering, and there must be reciprocity.

Yours sincerely


art painting

mixed-media experiments

working towards creating a language of marks – for small scroll paintings I want to make. using a mixture of strange and beautiful materials – many failed experiments today

(teaching me humility, and all about the ways not to paint with sachets of double choc mocha, watercolour, instant coffee, ink, meths, wax, and varnish)


a letter about fear

I’ve been writing letters to myself first thing in the morning for the last two weeks.

This is something which came out of a conversation about an exciting upcoming project with – and the feeling that writing a letter every day to anyone, including oneself, could be transformative.

The letters are quite personal, as you may imagine. They are mostly about my work, and are powerful in places, rambling and unexpected in other places. Reading them back to myself it seems like a gift, giving me a whole clear pathway for my work.

The first letter was about fear. I share it because fear and courage are a real part of work – and in case it helps :


Dear Sian

What is it that you are afraid of? Is it that you are afraid of admitting what it is that you are afraid of? Of writing it down? Well let’s write it down then. Go there.

Afraid of having nothing to show for myself.

Afraid of expressing myself imperfectly.

Afraid of being unsophisticated, stupid, wrong. Of being seen and exposed as such.

[Like the time when …]

Am I afraid of the breadth of my interest, that I hold so many disparate threads, that they cannot be reconciled, do not fit together? Yes I am afraid of that. That what I do does not tend in a direction. That what I hold is a shapeless heap. That it is beyond me to give it cohesion. And of course this is true. Even Sherlock Holmes has cases which he cannot solve, resolve; and he does not exist.

But again this is because I tend to feel that what I do does not have value, is not good enough – if it does not end in finality, in a conclusion… I want to believe that I will find something out. Reveal truth. And the truth that I do reveal is not a bright mountain; it is small, dim, partial, multiple, changing. […]

Meanwhile, I’ll remind myelf that the best I can do, the only thing I can do, is to show up, to claim the right to exist, to be good enough. Every day. Do one small thing.

Yours truthfully

Sian “