Finding The Right Marks

I’m falling in love with the Lake District all over again. The last few months have seen me working at Grasmere, Rydal, Thirlmere and Derwentwater. I love this time of year, there is nothing better than a few crisp hours spent drawing outside.

I am looking at the creative process and how it works in relation to landscape and memory. The Wordsworth Trust’s collection of manuscripts is the perfect starting point and I am very grateful to them for helping me with this project. I love the idea of using Romantic period writing as my source material – the conversation across disciplines and centuries is very exciting. The cross-over between painting and poetry is fascinating territory to explore. I am slowly learning how to paint words. There has been lots of reading and learning and a million questions – I can’t thank all those at Grasmere enough for their patience with me.

I have had some wonderful visits to the Jerwood Centre, in Grasmere, to spend time drawing from manuscripts. An amazing experience, like watching the creative process unfold. There is a rhythm of quills being dipped, thoughts scribbled, crossed out, written again… lines being removed and inserted elsewhere… thoughts taking shape and the ‘colours of style’ emerging. Each page turned brings something new and sometimes pages are ripped out, leaving intriguing stubs.

Working outside, and in Dove Cottage garden, is feeding into the mix and finally I am bringing all of these sources together. It takes time for all the information and thoughts to filter through before they turn up on the canvas. I love that time is an active ingredient in the process. A period of mulling and eventually, slowly, some finished paintings are emerging. This is the first of them.

“Fragments Of Memory ” Oil and Acrylic on Canvas 80 x 100 cm


I wanted this painting to be ‘timeless’ – inhabiting a sort of ‘no man’s land’ – a space just at the edge of consciousness where thoughts linger and hang and memories float around; some of them with substance and weight, some of them just a vague stain left in the mind. A very still day drawing beside Derwentwater… perfect reflections. The lake had been flooded so that debris and weed had caught on twigs and bushes leaving a sort of bedraggled ‘tide mark’ above the water level. Branches poked out of the water that should be on dry land… slightly strange and surreal… It was very white and bright and a bit too quiet – a bit post-apocalyptic. The shapes, twigs and leaves seemed random – like musical notes or inky blots on a page. I liked the suggestions of movement and forms appearing and disappearing in this eerie landscape. The way the ‘fragments’ are dispersed and sort of floating across the picture reminded me of how your mind stores memories (or doesn’t?). The sections of grey nothingness hint at ’bits lost’ or not yet found. It also seems to resonate with the manuscripts I have been looking at.

The variety of marks and speeds in this painting are essential. I’m developing a language of paint that works alongside the poetry, allowing the words and dashes on the page to become colours and painted marks. A slow process, but fascinating. Moving across, in front, beyond… perception, ambiguity, suggestion… and all the time scale and pace of thoughts and ideas; beauty in the mundane, looking at the details, noticing. Paintings can act like a mini world, creating a context for thinking. There are no words written in this painting, but I think some of the marks have a similar resonance. In other paintings, I am using words and marks copied directly from Wordsworth’s notebooks. Here are a few close up details.

I am keen to look at the different methods and rhythms of writing and thinking that the manuscripts reveal, how Wordsworth and Coleridge collaborated and how shared experiences turn up in their writing. Reality and imagination, how they interrelate and how two great minds used the process of their art to interrogate human existence… so much to learn!