I took some walks locally, collecting natural materials along the way from specific locations; plants growing within the walls by the seafront, wildflowers in the city centre, weeds and rusted metal from outside the studio. I wanted to test different fabrics so prepared a range of different silks and muslin ready for bundle dyeing. In creating the bundles, I used a different folding technique, folding the fabric in on itself until it was no longer possible to fold in the edges. I then placed them into jars to leave on the window sill. This should create a solar oven to allow the dyes to embed into the fabric. The bundles in the solar ovens were left for 30 days. After this, they were unwrapped, the excess materials brushed off. On opening the jars, each bundle had its own earthy yet sickly sweet heady smell that changed as the bundled was untied and unfolded. During this process, my hands became stained grey and took on another metallic scent. The fabrics were then left to dry before placing in a dark warm cupboard where they will rest for another 30 days.
Last night I attended my first workshop for my professional development bursary activity, bundle dyeing with local flowers and plant materials run by Babs Behan of Botanical Inks in association with Selvedge.
A large element of my practice involves walking through places to examine the rhythms and flows of the natural environments and of my own bodily movements through the space. Collecting objects, mostly natural materials, whilst I walk is a really important part of my practice. Collecting like this as a process is something I have been doing since long before I began to incorporate found objects within my work which I began doing a couple of years ago. My first experiments in using found objects were still very much located in my photographic practice, scanning the objects to explore them as micro and macro spaces, abstracting the forms by using them to create photograms in the darkroom. More recently I have been making lumen prints, placing plant materials on photographic paper under glass and leaving them for days or weeks to expose in sunlight. The substances within the plants and the reaction to the heat building up over time affected the photographic paper in really interesting ways creating organic patterns. I was drawn to the bundle dyeing workshop as a way to extract colour from natural materials in a way that is more environmentally conscious than working with photographic materials.
Bundle dying is a contemporary dye technique whereby natural materials are placed onto fabric which is then folded or rolled into a tight package. Steam is then used to transfer the colours from the plant into the fabric.
Babs demonstrated the process, explaining the different stages of preparing the fabric with mordant, selecting plant materials to use, folding techniques and steaming. The silk I dyed during the workshop was left to dry in my bathroom overnight and is now hung in my wardrobe. I will leave it here for around four weeks in order of the dyes to really embed themselves to encourage a stronger light-fastness. After this time I will be able to press the silk and wash away the remaining plant materials that are stuck to its surface.
Babs is so passionate about keeping her working process as ethical as possible, from the selection of fabric to the harvesting of plants and the final steaming processes. There are so many variables to the process and that, added to the variants that occur with using natural materials, the end results are highly unpredictable. I often work with processes where I give over my control of the final result to a process so for me, the method sits in well with my current practice.
Unexpectedly to me, the bundle dyeing method felt closely related to the photographic process. Placing objects on to a surface in order to record their impression in an abstracted way was similar to my previous work with photograms and lumen prints, just with very different results. For the workshop we used a hot steam bath in order to be able to produce results in a short time period, however, Babs recommends a cold approach, placing the bundle in a glass jar and allowing natural sunlight to create the heat energy required over a longer period of time. Sunlight is a key element of my practice and so I am looking forward to start trying this technique from my studio.
We had a wide range of fresh and dried flowers, food waste such as onion skins, powdered dye extracts including chlorophyll and weld, and dried mixtures with healing properties including camomile and mugwort. Babs shared her very conscious approach to selecting which plant materials to work with which we learnt was similar to an Indian tradition of Ayurvastra, a branch of the ancient Ayurveda system that I am familiar with from my yoga practice. This considers the healing properties of the plants used and also the symbolic associations we place on particular plants.
What I was also interested to learn was how much the dyes can speak of the environment from which the plant came from. The resulting colour can be affected by not only the physical make-up of the plant but also the soil it inhabited, the season in which it was harvested and the weather during the plant’s period of growth. I think this element will be the starting point for my own experiments following on from this workshop.
Botanical Inks run by Babs Behan is based in Bristol. http://www.botanicalinks.com/
I am thrilled to receive a Professional Development Bursary from a-n. The funding will enable me to learn new practical skills working with textiles in order to research and test new formats of showing photographic images.
My practice considers our experience and connection to nature and investigates the nature of our experience (you can see my website here). This involves walking, gathering, and observing in a process-driven manner informed by Eastern philosophies. I work mainly with photography, moving-image and found objects, making use of traditional analogue processes and digital technologies. I completed my MA Photography and the Land in September 2016. I was fortunate to receive an 8 month residency at Ocean Studios funded by Plymouth University which I will complete at the end of April. During this time I have found myself in a fragile yet exciting place, transitioning from the safety and structure of the institution to a self-led studio-based practice. Whilst the bursary is funding specific courses, I see the professional development activity as a much wider platform from which to build structure, independence and accountability in my practice. Maintaining this blog is a large part of building this discipline. I kept project journals throughout my MA yet was very aware that they would only be read by my tutors and cohort. I love writing and hope to build confidence in writing and sharing my ideas and progress in a more public space.
I’m developing a series of photographs created using extended exposure times that capture the movement of the land and of the body as it moves through the landscape. I have a habit of gathering natural found objects whilst walking. I reflect on these in my studio and bring them into my work in different ways. As my practice is all about experiences of nature, flows and rhythms, I want the presentation of my images to reflect this. For some time I have been thinking about printing onto textiles but have lacked the knowledge or skills to work with fabrics. I see so much potential in the fluidity or stiffness that different materials can carry, and the translucency they can hold. I’m not aiming to complete the production of this work during the bursary activity period but consider this as an opening for further works.