The usual way to extract flax fibre is to grab a handful of stems and then bash them with a mallet. This releases the fibre which can then be combed to remove the unwanted stalk.

This is the way a normal person would do it but I happen to be an artist who wants the lovely stems in one piece as they are very sculptural and can be used in the final artworks. However, this does mean painstakingly taking a single stem and gently releasing the fibre before pulling it off and then going back to get those pesky strands that didn’t want to come off first time. Of course, you get the difficult ones where you are about to take the last bit of fibre off and the stem breaks… you say “oh dear” and move onto the next one.

I realised that if I carried on at the speed that I was going I would be finished by the end of the year. The only trouble is that my first exhibition is at the end of April. What could I do? I know, hold a stripping party!

I advertised around the studios and a number of fellow artists answered the call. With tea, biscuits and chocolates at hand, Julie, Naty, Ginny and my lovely partner Lucy met in our gallery space to strip my flax. We all had lots of fun and in fact, when asked,  Siri said “it was the most fun you can have”. Ginny loved it so much that she even took some home, as did our Studio Coordinator, Letty.

I now have a lovely pile to start making paper from, ready for the documentary exhibition which starts in 2 weeks. Now to sort the seeds.

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Today I will mostly be looking through photographs. 2,808 of them. And that doesn’t even include the ones on my iPad. I don’t like to think how many are on there.
The reason? For the documentary exhibition at Art Space Portsmouth at the end of this month. Oh, and a book documenting the project to be launched at the exhibition at Tuppenny Barn at the end of April.
What am I doing writing a blog then? I’m a great procrastinator! (Not really Arts Council ;-) )

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It’s time to get into the studio… that is if I can get in it.

All my crops have been harvested, dried and now fill my studio. There is just about enough room to get in the door, get to my table and the sink so that I can make a cuppa.

I’m now beginning to sort it all out. I’ve started taking the flax fibres off the stems and separating the full seed pods from the chaff. More on this soon.


Once again it’s been a long while since the last blog post! This is mostly due to the whirlwind of activity that’s been taking place in order to make sure that Grow An Exhibition is a success is leaving very little time for the admin side! The project is ‘full steam ahead’ since receiving Arts Council England funding in April. I have been busy planting this year’s crops at Tuppenny Barn and my other partner gardens.

Last time I posted I had received a refresher in paper-making from Tanya Wood. Now that last year’s flax crops have been processed I have moved on to making paper from the plant fibres. I am pleased with the sample pieces of paper produced and am looking forward to experimenting with other plant materials. This paper will form the body of work for the exhibitions in 2016 at Art Space Portsmouth, Tuppenny Barn and Aspex Gallery.

In addition to the flax, I am once again growing Glass Gem corn (which I have termed ‘Funky Corn’). Since planting them in mid-June they have grown to over five foot tall, much bigger than this time last year. This is partly due to two wheelbarrow loads of manure, but mainly from all the rain we have had this ‘summer’. I am looking forward to unwrapping the cobs in the autumn. I am planning on involving schoolchildren in this process as I think that they will enjoy seeing the myriad of colours that are concealed inside each cob appear as they unwrap it. Last year I discovered that there were many willing adult volunteers who were amazed and delighted by the beautiful kernels they uncovered.

I will be posting more regular updates on the paper making, artworks and exhibitions now that the project is in full swing. If you wish to receive monthly project updates via email please sign up to my mailing list.
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Paper making refresher lesson

I have only made paper once before, and that was over 20 years ago, while at art college. I thought that as my project is mainly about paper making, that I should have a refresher lesson before I start making my own paper! Luckily, at my studios is a lovely artist friend who has all the materials, equipment and facilities in her studio.

Tanya Wood (www.tanyawood.co.uk) is helping me with this project by giving advice and technical support with the paper making. I didn’t know Tanya made paper, it came up after talking to her about what I was going to do and she said that she has made lots of handmade paper. I only knew her as a very talented artist who produces extremely detailed pencil drawings.

Tanya started the session right at the very beginning, tearing up recycled envelopes into small squares. I was told that shredded paper was not a good material to use as it cuts the fibres too short. This was then put into a liquidizer with some water and then blitzed until it turned into pulp. When you have enough it is poured into a large container with clean water in to form a watery solution. The mould and deckle, the frame that produces the paper, is then submerged into the container and then pulled up with the pulp solution on the top. The water then drains through the mesh leaving the ‘paper’, the mould is taken off and it is then turned upside down on to a j-cloth. After you have made a number of sheets, a board is put on top and weighed down to press as much water as possible out. The sheets can then be turned onto a flat surface to dry.

Well that is the theory! Most of the time it worked well. With some sheets I tried embossing with some plant material, to hopefully create the ‘ghost’ of a leave. This worked well with some of them, but on one of them I forgot to put another j-cloth on the first layer and ended up trapping leaves between 2 sheets. Although this was a mistake it turned out really well, producing a lovely textured surface, something I’ll try with the plant paper.

The dried paper turned out really well, for a first attempt, and gives me an understanding on where to go next and how to make the moulds into different shapes and sizes. The next step is to process some collected plant material and practice making the paper, and start to think of the final artworks.