Arboreal Signature, Nature’s Voice at West Dean.

Arboreal Signature, Nature’s Voice at West Dean: 2nd – 4th June 2017.
An arboreal, hybrid drawing project that crosses the boundaries between art and graphology.

I was very fortunate to be offered the opportunity to be a part of the West Dean Arts and Craft Festival in June 2017. As an environmental landscape artist, I am continually looking for opportunities to push the boundaries of what I think the genre of landscape art can include. I sketch ‘en plein air’, figurative renditions of the man-made landscape around me, producing a traditional view. Unlike Land Artists who make an ephemeral mark in the landscape with their earthworks and sculptures created out of what nature provides in their chosen location, I endeavour to collect marks produced by elements within the locality I am analysing. The West Dean Arts and Craft Festival offered me the perfect venue to trial an idea that I deliberated and noted four years ago and I put this forward as my plan:

“Over the three days of the West Dean Arts and Craft Festival, I will be taking the opportunity to explore the gardens by experimenting with, the mark-making potential of three different species of trees. Each tree, with my intervention and the help of the weather, will produce an individual drawing over the duration of the event. Each mark produced indicates there is an artist drawing within that space and time. Each mark is an indexical link back to the hand of the artist: the tree, the hand of the author, the hand of Nature. With this experiment I hope to explore the frontier of authorship by enabling the tree and elements to ‘write’ in their own hand. Potentially showing that the ‘writing’ produced by an individual tree is peculiar to it, as our writing is to each of us, in turn; offering Nature a voice.”

Prior to the event I was shown around the gardens to selecte three suitable trees. I particularly wanted to include a Ginkgo tree in this group, as I knew that they were included in the collection and I find its long history from prehistoric times fascinating. We located a Ginkgo biloba, Maindenhair Tree outside the Orangery in the lawns that sweep down from the pergola that traverses part of the garden. This was an ideal location and a beautiful setting to spend three days in the open with specimen trees and plants in abundance. From these I chose two more near by a: Robinia pseudoacacia, False Acacia and an unlabelled Beech tree.

The afternoon before the start of the festival, each tree was fitted with its drawing pendulum and a piece of paper. The trees immediately started to draw, expressing themselves visually.
I interacted by choosing the colours for each of the drawings with the trees in mind. Each would have a new colour every day, so it would be possible to identify which marks were made on a particular day. The pen would be changed every 24 hours and the drawings would be photographically recorded at the beginning and end of each day as interim records.

2nd June 2017. The Ginkgo is on the left of the photograph, the beech is central and the Acacia is on the right. My experiments are set up and hard at work.

I was excited to find out that it was recognised as a ‘live installation’ and was billed as such by the organisers of the event. This particularly delighted me as I had said that my work is inter-disciplinary and in this instance it had been recognised as a performance piece. Highlighted by the public coming to view and enjoy the instillation.

Photographs of the tree drawings, day 1:

Ginkgo drawing photographed at the beginning and end of the first day. Colour 1.

Acacia drawing photographed at the beginning and end of the first day. Colour 1.

Beech drawing photographed at the beginning and end of the first day. Colour 1.

With this process I have collected layers of marks produced by ink pens and weather. The marks were produced by the movement of trees branches blown by the wind, this in turn, moved the pendulums and the pens over the paper. Therefore the prevailing weather on day 1 provided the driving force for the trees graphology.

Although there had been heavy dew over night, there was no rain then or during the day therefore the ink was not activated by water and did not run. The day was hot and sunny with a light breeze.

Photographs of the tree drawings, day 2:

Ginkgo drawing photographed at the beginning and end of the second day. Colour 2.

Acacia drawing photographed at the beginning and end of the second day. Colour 2.

Beech drawing photographed at the beginning and end of the second day. Colour 2.

The weather remained dry – only an odd drop of rain over night found on the Ginkgo drawing – while the day was mostly sunny and cooler with a brisker breeze. By the end of the second day, it seemed to me that the trees were making marks that related to their physical shapes, their branch structure and leaf canopy, therefore producing a drawing that seemed to relate to their personality. I found myself describing this to visitors with particular descriptive words:

The Ginkgo, with its long slender branches where the leaves seem to sprout from the branch itself, was producing strong ‘linear’ marks.

While the Acacia with its multitude of diverging branches and thousands of tiny leaves produced ‘fluttery, light staccato’ marks.

And the Beech with its large compact bushy shape, dense branch structure and full thick leaf coverage was producing ‘strong, bushy’, dense marks all over the paper.

I also realised that the A2 paper being used was too small, as numerous marks were being recorded by the surrounding grass and plants. I recognised this as a transient bonus.

The trees and drawings were not the only things that I found intriguing. In true Romantic, artistic fashion, during the three days of the festival I was observing my surroundings, immersing myself in the atmosphere and sharing conversation about the developing drawings with an eclectic mix of interested visitors. This included a female botanist who loved the gardens. We enjoyed a lengthy dialogue that examined another research proposition.

The following photographs capture some of the moments of beauty and pleasure that caught my attention:

Early morning shadows and the discovery of input from ants.

I had time to get lost in my surroundings.

Time to enjoy luscious marks.

I also found strange floral coincidences and the beauty of edges, colour and texture.

The third and final day dawned bright, sunny and very breezy, cooler with sunny spells in the afternoon. The pens spent a considerable proportion of the day airborne, due to the stronger breeze, but when in contact with the paper the marks were dynamic.

Photographs of the tree drawings, day 3:

Ginkgo drawing photographed at the beginning and end of the third and final day. Colour 3.

Acacia drawing photographed at the beginning and end of the third and final day. Colour 3.

Beech drawing photographed at the beginning and end of the third and final day. Colour 3.

To conclude this experiment, these three ‘en plein air’ sketches recorded and explored the mark making ability of individual trees by staging a creative act. The pendulum pen explored the surface area of the paper over the duration of the event, it investigated time and space and created a visual narrative. I facilitated the elements of trees and weather to register abstract expressionistic marks on paper. I assisted with the making of these marks, but they have no indexical link back to my hand. However there is an indexical link back to the tree and the weather; therefore the marks that they made represent the hand of the artist. The piece of paper itself, whilst being held below the tree and pendulum became a part of the landscape, a vessel that collected within its fibres’ and captured on its surface the layers of marks produced. In this case, by the chance help of wind, sunshine, rain, and dew and also the serendipitous marks left by falling leaves, passing animals, birds and insects. Each mark articulated the ephemeral workings of natural forces in a moment of time; it makes them visible, bringing hidden nature into the realm of the human art world of looking, viewing and seeing. In turn, it offered Nature a chance of authorship and enabled the visible representation of her ‘voice’.

Having found with this initial experiment, that different tree species do produce different qualities of mark that seem to relate to their structure, this opens up further avenues of research into the relationship between each and their individual graphology. This also offers the opportunity to explore notions of authorship and its boundaries and to develop an indexical drawn documentation of the interaction between a tree, the weather and its surrounding environment at a particular time. This research highlighted that the A2 paper and pendulum set up, is suitable for my small suburban garden but in the vast gardens at West Dean with spaced specimen trees, the scale of the paper and pendulum need to be considered further. I would ideally like the opportunity to repeat the experiment with more trees using large round paper, that would collect all the marks produced and reflect the movement of the pendulum. This would enable me to develop this new strand of work; Arboreal Signature, alongside the original growing series of drawings, Nature’s Voice.

I would also like to thank all the visitors, exhibitors, volunteers and staff who shared a moment with the trees and I, over the duration of the festival.

“What an exciting concept and an invitation to open another door. Brilliant. Thank you”. Penny S.

“Really beautiful work and concept, fascinating and insightful… I hope you can listen to many more trees. Thank you for the inspiring conversation too! Lemon (Love a Lemon Ceramics) x


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