Early every morning we go off to the woods together and I have seen the transition from winter to spring peep through, and now it rushes into green everywhere. I have witnessed it but been unable to record it or even make art about it. I had wanted a series of seasonal drawings which started with the autumn and went very well. Winter I started but as other clients came along the focus shifted and winter was left in cold so to speak. As for spring it has no hope of being explored, work is frantically busy with focus on other things.
A few photos in my phone is all that remains of winter possibly a couple of posts on the.redfred on instagram and that was winter. However: I witnessed every frosty morning, every early morning mist and every ……..
……………there you are you see, my mosaic tiles are being delivered and Fred is very keen to make acquaintance with the delivery driver and winter is pushed out again time to move on, the next thing makes no time for reflection.
A few winter photos and this represents all my winter experiences!
But I witnessed it every day it folded and passed in my real world I saw the sun rises, I felt the frosts and walked in the rain. It has played a huge part of what has happened to me recently. The early morning walks reset the mind of the walker ready for the events that follow during the day. I have, I am sure been clearer more decisive and more productive as a direct result of observing winter on a daily basis. Nothing to show ….. yet it played a part in everything.
Perhaps to say then, better to have experienced it and benefited leaving little trace to document those benefits.
The benefits are not directly artistic and remain invisible.
I walk every day with my Irish Terrier Fred. These are not done in the manner generally associated. A 20 minute round the block, down to the co-op for milk or along the coastal path with visitors on a windy Sunday. Those rarely occur, if ever.
Our dog walks are proper dog walks. They are as important to me as they are to Fred. We leave every morning between 7.30 and 8.00am, rain or shine and are always gone for well over an hour. I am pretty committed to 2-3 projects and generally have a workshop to run or a meeting of some kind which I regard as cutting these walks short.
They are no longer just dog walks. I need the space mentally. Quite an abstract statement! What does it mean?
Well: Some level of planning goes into each one. I rotate the areas we walk to encounter a range of environments. Largely my local woodlands, and there again I rotate which woodland and which area of the woodland visited. Sometimes I introduce a new area to walk, though I do need to travel some distance to find new walks and I don’t have spare time to travel far at the moment. Neither do I have time to reflect much on these walks or make art about them. This is temporary and as things settle down in a month or so I am sure I will have more time to work with the experiences.
At the moment I use them to either mentally plan things in my mind, have ideas about projects, imaginary conversations or dialogues that seem important and relevant to current concerns or topics. Other times I am very mentally inactive. Just letting the frost, mud or the trees just affect me without any control from me, just immersion in the landscape. I fine with that, no outputs of any kind just in the landscape! Sometimes I watch Fred, observe his behaviours and look at what he is doing. These walks are filters or part of a process often unconscious.
Then suddenly I need to manage a ‘Fred situation’ this might be an encounter with an aggressive dog, or a dog owner who wants to engage. A hang-glider following us along the cliff top or a wild animal. Today it was a swamp. Fred on one side me on the other and neither of us prepared get too wet. It took some while to find a route through without sinking.
There is always some kind of drama.
The thing I have noticed is that there are fewer places to walk with Fred, compared to 4-5 years ago with my previous dog Cosmo. The biggest loss is the old Golf Course and I do miss it. I am aware I have not been over there for about a year, but they closed the footpath temporarily as the whole site is being developed for mainly residential housing and some retail and leisure facilities. I have a blog following the changing use of the site over a number of years. I will go over and explore, as I can see that there are a lot of new homes built and people are living there. See my blog https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/over-the-golf-course/. The other thing that has happened is that agricultural land on the outskirts of the town has also changed use and the fields are now covered in solar power panels. This has had an impact on my dog walks as I used to access the woods through fields just behind the town, sadly no longer possible. I have to say that the woodlands are extensive and coastal paths are still all dog walking favourites so I can’t really complain, but I did enjoy the variety and changing landscapes.
So: we walk in the woods a lot now which is great and I enjoy that as much as Fred. Who looks for squirrels as his main priority. He darts around covering large areas, back and forth, over and back. He jumps up completely vertically, which reminds me of a harrier jump jet. This is to gain a better view and see what’s around. Fred’s eye view must be bracken and shrub so every now and then he pops up for a better look. He often disappears for periods of time and I cant see him, and as I reach a crossroads or fork in the path I have a decision to make. Do I whistle and call him to show him which way I’m going, or do carry on and let him find me? Today, he had a particularly long foray into the trees and was AWOL for one of his longer spells and I came to a T junction. I carried on deciding to let him find me and give him no clues to which way I had gone. I walked on for a bit and still no sign of Fred. It was a long time and he could be anywhere by now as the T junction was way back. So I decided to break my silence, and whistle as I had got anxious doing a silly stand-off thing. I whistled very loudly hoping this could be heard over a 1000 yards or even more as I had no idea where he was. After literally a couple of seconds he was there right there running towards me! He knew where I was all the time and I had caused myself anxiety for no reason.
We met Dylan, a large standard Poodle who had a new hair cut called a short back and sides. This means the top of his head is fluffy and mop like and so is his tail. The rest of him looked like a plucked chicken, sometimes they leave hair around the feet as well. But Dylan walks in the woods and would get muddy legs so only the top of his head and tail survive the shears. Its an odd look, but hey-ho not my dog. Dylan had eaten his Xmas present this morning, stolen it from the kitchen side. All 10 bright green rawhide chew-sticks eaten altogether. Dylan had bright green squits this morning – apparently. I think Fred likes Dylan and they chase each other for as long as you would let them.
But the main news is I have made a small printing press with a hydraulic car jack. I have used it and it works just fine. I am very pleased as I probably only spent about £50 – £55 altogether. The plan is to focus on lino cuts next year, a new area/medium for me with much to discover ahead. I have started with a series of ‘Tree Spirit’ prints already inspired by our dog walks through the autumn. I am enjoying the process of print making. It’s all process until the final thing right at the very end. You never know exactly till the last-minute what things will be. Rather like mosaics come to that.
It is called ‘The Redfred Press’ and I’m working on it after posting this.
As you know Fred has his own Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/the.redfred/ and as it turns out Fred is part of an Irish Terrier Community out there on Instagram. Now… a few blog posts ago I mentioned a walk to find an abandoned car. Someone with a relative of Fred’s must have read this blog followed my map and found the car I was talking about….took a photo of Missy Aileen and posted it on Instagram showing their dog with the car behind. Amazing they engaged so totally. I like the sense of belonging to some kind of group, its strange that has happened with a dog owners’ group. I have artist friends, as well as blogging friends on this online community, but its not art we share.
I would like to meet them one day, I don’t think they live that far away.
Anyway, I meant to talk about a small plastic toy figure I picked up in the woods. This small brightly coloured toy contrasted highly with the mud and I picked it up straight away, quite excited to see what I had discovered? Washed it in a nearby puddle and was rather disappointed. What I had hoped to find was that this was going to symbolize Celtic Woodland Spirits in a way described by Jon Bowen on the comments to an earlier post. What I wanted it to be was something which looked like it could harness the powers of nature and make trees change colour, make animals appear and talk and make accidents happen to unwanted visitors to the forest. It was female and it was going well at first. But: She turned out to be made by Fisher Price and was holding something like a golden 99 ice cream cone. She was part of a brand of toys called ‘little people’ which probably have houses or palaces which look like they are made of icing sugar. She was small and round with a tiara, but I felt she might have been closer to home baking or cup-cakes, very cosy and homely and rather heavy for her height. I do feel someone with muddy shoes would have repulsed her and wild animals would be hideous creatures which cause trouble and upset people. Strong winds, heavy rain or cold temperatures would be things she would avoid at all costs.
Not the wild forest spirit I had wished to find.
I have brought the toy home and it is in my workshop. I had thought by ‘using art’ it would be a relatively easy task to create what I wanted by drawing it based on this toy character. It did not happen easily and after a few drawings I realized this was perhaps not the right source material, even though I really wanted it to be and the idea has been shelved, waiting for further inspiration. Perhaps celtic coins would be a better starting point for forest spirits?
The autumn leaves have mostly fallen already. I’ve walked in the woods more this autumn then in the last 3-4 years. I’ve greatly enjoyed it. I made a series of small drawings I have called the #thedogwalkdrawings and posted them on Instagram. Fred has his own account called
https://www.instagram.com/the.redfred/ where I have recorded our autumn walks together.
And todays walk: well two things happened. I don’t normally meet that many people in the woods early in the morning (apart from other dog owners). But today I noticed a woman get out of her car with knee pads on! Mmm, a little unusual, she put a ruck sack on her back and carried a wicker basket on her arm. She was oriental I don’t know where from and seemed to be wearing many layers of clothing, more than most people. With her red plastic knee pads and pink patterned rucksack and wicker basket, she was looking unusual. She spoke English and explained she was collecting mushrooms, and showed me a tall slender mushroom which was at the bottom of her empty basket. She went onto explain that some people like me walk their dogs in their spare time, but she came to the woods to pick mushrooms in hers. Her car was stuffed with ‘stuff’ and I could feel she was reluctant to talk too freely. We said good bye and went in opposite directions.
I have noticed Fred responds to sounds better than voice commands, that’s clicks and whistles, so I have just started trying to get a little sharper on controlling him, as training has been a chore and slid off my agenda. I am not a very good dog trainer and have little consistency when it comes to calling Fred back to me. Sometimes I say ‘Here’ other times I say ‘Come’ and sometimes just call his name out. What chance does he stand with bad habits on my behalf like that? However, whistles and clicks I am having better results with. Which was fortuitous as we had an incident. I had had a very similar incident with my previous dog which did not go very well.
Fred was squirreling and I was just walking, enjoying the slip-slide of the mud and the autumn leaves, daydreaming no particular concerns and no real idea where Fred was. I whistled as I reached a T junction, I like to get him back so he knows which way I have gone. At this T junction is a stile and Fred has got under the stile and is inside what you might describe as a fenced enclosure, there are many of these in the woodlands. I can see him inside and he sees me then starts barking?
I realise he has started barking at the Conic Ponies, there are 4 of them. Fred’s very excited and barking his best. The ponies must operate at a different frequency altogether and remain totally unmoved by a medium/small ginger dog ‘going garrity’. Flash backs of stampedes caused by my previous dog rush into my mind. I whistle and wave, shout and jump about and to my amazement Fred does run under the stile and out to me. I run along the path and Fred follows me. Wow that worked a treat and I stop running. As soon as I stopped Fred turned around and dashed back to the stile and under and back in! Barking. I had to run back and get his attention again and make him come out. I thought it best not to go in myself. The ponies were moving about a bit this time and I felt more urgency to get him out of this. I whistled and ran again. He followed me and I definatly needed him on his lead and I said ‘sit’. He sat, I clicked the clicker thing gave him a treat and put his lead on. Happy days.