Things are slowly growing. . .

by Helen Barker

This morning I went to look round a new block of studios being built in Sheffield for Yorkshire Artspace. The studios will be up and running next year and are situated in the heart of Parsons Cross, a large estate on the north side of the city. At the moment its a building site, but I got to climb around it in a hard hat and high-vis jacket, exploring the spaces that will eventually be home to a new influx of artists and administrators. Exciting things are happening in this part of the city, and its so encouraging to see renovation and imagination take hold of a place in the midst of a year that has been financially quite damaging to the arts. Yorkshire Artspace offer residencies, starter programmes, studios and exhibition spaces to Artists – their development in the north is worth keeping an eye on!

When I returned to town this afternoon I went to what is becoming my regular haunt, the Winter Gardens, for lunch. The plants and flowers there have really crept into my work, and I’ve become quite obsessed by botanical illustration. It’s funny how the minute you start thinking about something you notice it everywhere. I’m not sure if its more prevalent up here (perhaps I am merely subject to my surroundings), but ideas surrounding growth, the natural progression of time and gardens are everywhere!  I’ve contributed to this by taking out all the local library books on botanical drawing and still life painting. And, as my routine now stands, after lunch I go round the corner to the local florists and buy a new specimen to take back to my studio and observe. The only problem is I’m so entranced by the colour of the thing that I forget to ask what it is! I’m currently painting a beautiful, large, yellow plant. I don’t think I’d make a good botanical illustrator with such limited information. . . .

In between the oil paint drying I’m producing some water-colour drawings, at least – this is the plan. I read an article today about gardens and enjoyed the relationships that came up between the edges of the garden and the frame. There was also mention of the island, which has obvious edges, and two popular gardening countries being islands (Britain and Japan). Walls, hedges, fences and borders all keep the garden together, and I have started to think about this in relation to my interest in painting plants. Where does the border/edge sit in my work? What am I framing?

At a recent tutorial a tutor asked me “what is the frame?” when she saw my painting. Although in the context of the tutorial this might not have been a particularly easy question to answer, it has remained with me as an interesting question to take further – beyond its original intention. The frame of my work is something that is at the edges of my mind at the moment, pulling at me to be knitted together. I have key words written on my studio wall, and phrases come to me when I write. But as yet there are no sentences. Sometimes we need to make more stuff, more stuff to look at so we can see the relationships between it more clearly. I need more stuff- more drawings, more paintings. More things need to be grown.  So, in search of answers to this question. . . onwards. . . .