I was a creative child, drawing, painting, making models but when art was no longer available to me at 16, I then followed my fascination with people and why we live the way we do. I graduated in Social Science and qualified as a Careers Advisor . The core of this profession is to support people to explore their talents and interests and to then find a way to achieve them. I wanted to offer others, something I realise now that I needed myself.
Over the following years I would return to drawing when I could, and in my mid thirties studied Photography and became a professional photographer. I combined my experience of working with people, and the ‘natural eye’ my photography tutor had recognised in me. How important encouragement is! I developed my awareness and feeling for composition through photographing people as I worked purely on instinct, not setting things up just allowing things to flow. This wasn’t necessarily a principle at first, but I soon found that I didn’t pre-conceive an image, I would respond to it.
I had grown up in Gateshead and the only open space with trees was Saltwell Park. I longed for the freedom of the open countryside and this is still where I feel most at home. Ideally a camp fire by the side of the river, something I have been lucky to do regularly at Mickley. The same bit of the river which Thomas Bewick would have played alongside as his birthplace was just down the lane from where I lived. I discovered Cherryburn before it became a museum. I used to sit in the garden and pretend it was my home.
I usually find a favourite tree wherever I am living. I will visit the tree most days and I feel a sense of arrival and greeting, spending time with and then parting and leaving. The tree is so dependable, it never leaves me. For 20 years I passed a tree on the road to Matfen Hall from the Military road. I was on the way to visit my parents. It was a beautiful shape, bent and curved by the prevailing wind. I always thought about it and wanted to draw it, something I have yet to do. But it awakened in me the enthusiasm I have for noticing and celebrating trees.
When I have had the time to make art it has always been trees really. My first copper plate etching many years ago, a tree just off Station Bank in Mickley, more recent one’s of the Beltingham ancient Yew. The stories I wrote for my sons 23 years ago about Pee Lee Peep, who lived in a tree of course. A silver birch on the riverbank at Mickley.
And then my sons grew up. And it was my time to make pictures, to explore being that ‘artist’ knowing now that it’s making your own individual mark which is the celebration. All you have to be is yourself. It’s easy to say, but not easy for everyone to just do, including me. But I went back to etching 7 years ago and at the same time found that I could volunteer in the press room at Cherryburn. I didn’t have a clue about printing but I was full of enthusiasm. So I learned from Paul Goldsmith in traditional printing, and Chris Daunt in wood engraving. I have exhibited with the Society of Wood Engravers on 3 occasions and will be able to submit a portfolio to apply for membership of the society. I give talks on Thomas Bewick and demonstrate wood engraving and printing to groups at Cherryburn and have been on Flog it, and Further Tales from Northumberland.
I didn’t know it was possible to relief print trees until I saw the work of Bryan Nash Gill in 2017. I then mentioned my interest in tree printing to the NT rangers at Cherryburn, and was given the most beautifully sanded round of Oak which had fallen at Allen Banks. I now had to see if I could do it!
It is an immersive process of burning the wood with a blow torch to burn away the softer wood and to create a raised surface. Then wire brushing, sealing with shellac, and it’s ready to roll on the linseed oil traditional ink, put the paper down and hand burnish. All my wood pieces are too big for my press or not perfectly level so hand printing is the way to go. It’s also lovely to do. I feel the wood, and I see the image faintly appearing on the paper as a shine. The large Oak takes about 45 minutes to hand print.
What I absolutely love about this process is the revealing of the tree as it is. There is it’s life story laid bare, and beautifully.
Photography is the miracle of that real actual moment of light reflecting off a tree and entering the camera. It actually happened. I have always been in awe of this, its a thrill, a shiver.
Tree printing I touch with my hands, there is smell of ink, and burning, and I get messy. My arms ache, my muscles have grown. Its earthy, its bodily.
I am immersed in wood printing and have a growing collection of wood. I have an exhibition at Muker in April and have been given a 148 year old round of Ash which is the limb of a tree which is still standing. I will also be making wood prints from Hackfall woods over the summer for the exhibition in the Autumn at Masham Gallery.
If you have a piece of wood you would like printed I am doing workshops and happy to teach you! Also if anyone would like to donate a piece of wood, I give a complementary print in return.
There are so many wonderful friendly trees out there to meet.