Exhibition: Outline South West / Anita Reynolds
In September 2013, I went to the Outline South West exhibition, at Harbour House in Kingsbridge, Devon. This tracked the first half of a project by printmaker Anita Reynolds, in which she set out to walk the entire length of the South West Coast Path (all 630 miles of it), sketching en route, with the aim of producing a drypoint plate for each day of the walk.
The exhibition contained all the prints to date, including a couple of not-quite-finished ones (all part of the ongoing process). The artist (who was present at the exhibition) commented that starting work on these resolved pieces was the hardest part, after all the excitement of the walking and the sketching… which leads to my personal highlight of this exhibition – the sketchbooks.
Although this was a printmaking exhibition (and a fine one, at that), the main thing I took away from it was ‘What A Sketchbook Can Be’. There were several laid out on a table, and I sat with them for ages, studying them eagerly. Prior to this, I had felt a bit lost with my own sketchbook – what to do with it, and how to treat it. It felt like a purely academic object, something I knew I had to fill for this course. Here, though, all kinds of possibilities began to evolve. AR came over at one point (probably wondering why this woman wouldn’t leave her sketchbooks alone) and, in response to my obvious delight at being able to leaf through them all, said ‘That’s where all the good stuff is.’ In her own words, they carried no pressure, and were (relatively) private, allowing her the freedom to explore and experiment in any way she wished. It was at that point that something clicked in my own mind – the fact that my sketchbooks are for me (to be looked at by my tutor and the assessors, yes, but still ultimately for my own use).
One of the aspects which most sparked my interest was the inclusion of personal observations – a comment on the effect of the weather on morale, for example, or what she and her partner had eaten that day, as well as notes on details of particular interest. I can imagine that all these things could act as triggers for broader memories, which would add even more substance to any work made from the initial sketches.
Many of the pages featured a ‘Word of the Day’ (see above), something I’ve done in diaries over the years, and which greatly appeals to me for sketchbooks. Such written notes would surely only enhance the visual records made in such books.
AR’s choice of materials for the walk were largely determined by weight and ease of use. They included:
- graphite sticks
- black ink and bamboo nibs
- Derwent Inktense sticks
- sheets of perspex
- drypoint tools
These limitations resulted in a certain cohesive quality to the books as a whole – a continuity of media and palette that served to enhance the feeling of process, unifying the disparate sketches.
In addition to a more personal approach to the sketchbooks, the mark-making had a tremendous effect on me. I have written elsewhere in this blog about my desire to loosen up, but somewhere between desire and execution, I would lose my way. I’m not claiming to have found it yet (not quite), but I have a clearer idea of where I’m going. Here, the mark-making was bold – loose, broad, expressive marks, sometimes bordering on abstract.
Directional power of line. Splashes of colour which were then drawn over. Crayon used as resist (at least, that’s what it looked like). Watercolour skies dripped on by rain. Mixed media. Sketches done over torn brown paper stuck down on the page. Tone mapping with annotations.
Pages extended with more paper taped on. Circles, hatching, scribble. Graphite drawings over colour-washed backgrounds. Areas of space juxtaposed with concentrated marks. Olive, burgundy, tan, ochre, blue-grey, peacock blue, burnet umber, black, and white.
Colour notes and descriptions which read like poetry. Black crayon (but sometimes colour) for definition, white crayon over black.
Feeling of movement. It was exciting, inspiring, and galvanising.
In addition to all of the above, which I noted at the exhibition, I’ve recently realised something else that could be invaluable to my own work, and that is the cultivation of daily habit and structure.
Both are emphasised at some length in almost every OCA video and blog post, but I see now that I hadn’t really absorbed their usefulness. Building that rhythm of work creates a momentum that pushes one on through patchier times. Obviously, really, but sometimes it takes a while for the light bulb to switch on. This project relies on that very structure in an explicit way, but would could equally well apply to a variety of work.
The second part of the journey will be from Brixham to Poole. I’m already looking forward to the sketchbooks.
(All images are copyright of Anita Reynolds, used with permission of the artist.)