I went out for a few hours wander on the cliffs around St Agnes yesterday and took along a sketchbook and a few Conte pastels ‘just in case’. Walking along a familiar track I sat and watched the clouds taking shape around the hill; there’s something about this particular place that’s really getting under my skin lately. I won’t divulge any more yet, my thoughts are still quite amorphous, but I think I’ll be going back to look at it some more. Maybe I need to take a wider range of materials next time, or colours at least…
I made this gouache painting of the Beacon a few weeks ago:
and there are few more sketches here and here if you’d like to take a look.
Back soon with another instalment of my coastal path walks, this time from Penzance to Porthcurno.
Please don’t talk to me when I’ve just woken up. Actually, probably best to leave it for an hour and a half. Do not request a hair cut, even if it is “just a quick one”; don’t ask “have you got 80p in your bank account? There’s this Sonic the Hedgehog app I’d like”; please don’t request my help to decide how you can best waste £50 to make your new xbox controller work on your pc; in fact, just stop asking me anything. All I can hear is noise, and I really don’t like noise when I’ve just woken up.
“Why are you still in your pyjamas? I was planning on a long walk today, how am I going to do that now, if you’re not ready to leave? You were supposed to be meeting your friends at 11, it’s almost midday.” “What time do you want picking up? 4 o’clock? Well, that’s not gonna happen, I’m going to the Roseland for a walk, I told you.” And so it goes on…
I pull into the lay-by at Wrinkling Lane (don’t you love that name?) near Trelissick
Good concentration is still eluding me at the moment. How do you manage to focus when the creative things you usually do take time and thought? Do you have a strategy?
Mine is to do something physical, raise the heart rate (considerably) with a speed walk, a run or a bike ride (although I haven’t been motivated to get my bike out of the shed for the last couple of weeks…) and that seems to help for a short while afterwards. I’m also focussing on purposely small creative projects like these landscape sketches and the ones below. If I can produce a drawing that I can finish in an hour or so I feel like I’ve achieved something; working on bigger pieces, or ideas that take a lot of clear thinking leave me feeling frustrated and down, so my policy has been to put them on the back burner for a while.
I’ve been thinking a lot about walking lately (thinking as well as doing!) and most of the few sketches I’ve done have been made in a book when I’ve been out locally. This lonely hill, St Agnes Beacon, seems to be constantly in my line of sight! It’s not a large hill, but it’s distinctive and one that I’ve run, walked and biked over. From the top there’s a 360 degree view of the coast and countryside: dramatic cliffs and distant headlands, wind farms, villages, small networks of fields edged with stone hedges and stubby windswept trees. It feels raw, exposed. A tiny bit of wildness. I feel constantly drawn to it (no pun intended!).
Another piece of inspiring wildness near home is on a section of the South West Coast Path towards Perranporth. Cligga Head is a spectacular granite outcrop. Vast sheets of rock look like they’ve been snapped, leaving shards rising from the sea 90m below. The area is rich in rare minerals and the cliffs are riddled with mining tunnels; tungsten was mined as recently as the second world war. A quarry on the cliff edge breaks open the rock to reveal intricate folds and layering: you can literally see what ‘molten‘ means. But what draws me most to both these places lately are the colours.
The Beacon is swathed in heather and gorse, a deep vibrant purple and acid yellow when it’s in bloom, fantastic earthy burnt siennas once the flowers have died back. The colour on Cligga Head is jaw dropping. Iron has stained the cliffs a pinkish blood red; the colour seems to drip, ooze from the rock as though someone had been over it with an over-laden paint brush, full of watery alizarin paint. Next to it are rich, deep yellow ochres that I haven’t seen anywhere else except Peru. There are cliffs that are soft white, pale grey, pitted and knobbly. Some rocks are scarred with green copper and the layers of bright lush green moss, lichen and pink thrift are settled on them all. It’s a dynamic palette laid out before me and I can’t get enough of it – and frustratingly the palette of soft chalky pastels I have can’t be made to capture what I can see! Neither does the sketch for that matter – I plan to go back and do some more soon. (When I did this one my hands got too cold, despite wearing gloves, and guess what… I lost concentration!)
Maybe I’ll go back tomorrow; I want to go for a longish walk of 12 miles or so, but haven’t planned where yet. How about you, what will you be doing this Easter Sunday? Apart from eating chocolate! Hope you have a lovely day.
Last night I slept in the open. No companion, no shelter, just me, my sleeping bag and a book (Macfarlane’s The Wild Places) on top of a hill overlooking the sea.
Before the sun went down I wandered along the coast and made a few pastel sketches of St Agnes Beacon, the hill I slept on. They’re rudimentary; my hands began to get too cold too quickly, so I packed up and headed up the hill to watch the sunset unfurl over the sea, before I snuggled down inside my sleeping bag to read by torchlight.
As I flipped through the sketchbook this morning I realised I’d picked up an old one. A very old one. One of the earliest sketches was from 1996:
Still looking at telegraph poles 18 years later. Curious.
I’m on one at the moment. As in right now, this very moment. I could talk shit for England. An hour ago I could have cut my arms in despairing loneliness and hopelessness. An hour before that I was on a massive high after a short trail run. Then it just hit me, a punch in the stomach to remind me and bring me down to the floor where I belong. I feel a painful absence, a strong sense of someone missing, like I’ve been cut loose but I don’t know why. I ask myself what I did, or do wrong and I can’t find the answer.
I can’t sleep, even though I know I should try. What’s the point, I’ll just lie here fidgeting, sighing, face wet with tears staring at the ceiling. Actually, fidgeting doesn’t really describe it. Throwing myself around in deep frustration is more like it. So here I am, thinking about crap and letting it flow through my fingertips. I’m trying to ‘censor’ myself, tidy up my thoughts by writing; but there’s a lot of shit in my head tonight that no-one wants to hear about – forgive me if I don’t make sense. I’m sure I don’t. I hardly know myself what I’m on about. I’ll change the subject.
I’m reading books about walking at the moment. Well they’re not really about walking in the usual sense, more like walking as a vehicle for something else. Long distance walking. They thread stories of who we are through the landscape, connect us with the past through geology and archaeology. With each step the walker seems to find a connection, a root growing from the past to the present. It’s interesting to see where that root comes up to the surface. Every one comes up somewhere different. I’m not just enjoying these books, I’m learning. I think that’s the interesting part. I know so little about the archaeological features that shape the landscape I feel like I’m missing out. I look at rock formations and I think about how I could use them as metaphor – but I don’t know anything about the geology that caused them. I look around me with the eyes of an artist, and not a landscape artist at that. My work has always been about relationships at the root: I look at the landscape as a way to understand relationships. Sounds weird, and like something that needs some unravelling. Or investigation. Or is one the same as the other?
I have a new project brewing, but I want to write something rather than make something visual. Well at the moment. And there, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open. I want to write. And not crap like this.
The wind’s getting up. I feel a little calmer. Sleepy. Maybe I’ll fidget less if I try to sleep now. I’ve got to be awake again in 5 hours. I wonder what it would feel like to sleep with someone curled round me for 5 hours. I used to love that feeling of security, touch, warmth. I just listen to the wind now. Goodnight.
I think of my footsteps in yours sinking in the sands one becoming another
It’s so hard to write when your mind is blank, when language has gone, when images can’t be put together and yet you know there’s something you need to express. You ask yourself what it is you want to say, who you want to say it to and you despair when you recognise there’s only a feeling that you fear no-one will ever comprehend.
It’s painful to watch the world. Not feel part of it, rejected by it, used by it. I am a black, hollow ache. I don’t have the energy or the desire to turn on the colour. Except to watch the red seep from my flesh. Reminding me.
I suffuse these words with meaning, my meaning. They sit quietly on my desk and I let their sounds and images gently swirl around my mind, where they already begin to form pictures. I can feel them rising.
Sweat was dripping from my forehead onto the sickly pink yoga mat below me. Heels pressing back into the floor, palms sinking into the mat as I push my shoulder blades down and my pelvis back. The downward facing dog reminds me nothing is easy, even if it looks it. At the end of the session we’re lying in the corpse pose and I’m waiting for the comfort of a blanket to be tenderly laid over me, but it never came. I cool down too quickly and the flickering fluorescent light in the low ceiling above distracts and irritates even through closed eyes.
Driving home I feel drained, heavy and empty. The inside of my chest feels like it’s dragging along the floor behind me. I wanted to feel energised and alive, instead my mood slumped and my body followed suit. My mind is just numb.
As the night moves on I become agitated, so restless I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m filled with visceral screams that push hard against my bones, but I can’t release them. I don’t know where they’ve suddenly come from, or why. These unfathomable swings in mood that I’ve suffered since childhood, are debilitating, unpredictable. Unbearable. In the early hours I pace around the bedroom. I sit on the floor in the dark pushing my back flat against the cold wall. I feel utter despair. Panic. It’s such an acute pain that rings on forever like a tuning fork, cold and hard.
Surely, if this life is about anything it’s about intimacy? An intense and reciprocal ‘knowing’ between two people. As everything around me, inside me, is stripped away by all but me I question who has known me, who I have known, who will ever know me. My despair rises to such an intense pitch that I feel I’m imploding. I have to make Art. Capital A. Have to. Imperative, not a desire. Drive, instinct. I have to find someone to connect with. Now. There is no other way. No other way to keep safe.
I’m walking down the valley now, in the harsh afternoon light, to the beach. My eyes barely lift from the path. My body feels like lead and my muscles ache from last night’s yoga. Amongst the fallen leaves I notice wind fallen hawthorn berries, scattered like polished jewels. And rabbit droppings. There’s still the odd cornflower lining the path, fading to brown, and the bracken is a crackling, deep, rich Sienna colour.
My legs are red cold. I deliberately wore sheer tights, so fine that I’d feel the cold bite through me. To feel something. I want to collect some sand, just a handful, and I’ve brought a zip lock bag to carry it home in. I feel the bag in my pocket, smooth and unnatural. The tide’s low, way out, and my footprints stay amongst those of the dogs’ and the scudding marks of balls their owners have thrown them. I wander down to the sea, aimless. My feet are wet, but I’m oblivious to any discomfort and watch, disconnected, as the wind blows spume over them.
Sand collected, I rub the bag between my fingers as I head back up the valley, feeling its grittiness. I have ephemeral thoughts about the grains being blown thousands of miles from here, that they’re so imperceptible no one would know they were gone or where they’d blown to. Someone else might pick them up in a new handful of sand and rub them, dry and hot, between their fingers. Knowing.