Sunday, 10 January 2010


My interest in nature's patterns and observation of the ferns in my garden have led to a deep fascination with these amazing plants.  My ferns, like many others in the neighbourhood, have probably been growing there since soon after the houses were built at the beginning of the twentieth century, but they are mere youngsters compared with the history of ferns in gerneral, which have been around since the Jurassic period.  Good job I like them, as they are not only great survivors but are almost impossible to get rid of.

It started with observational drawings I did last spring, including these two:

For me drawing is not only an intriguing activity which lights up the artist in me but is also a process of observation and discovery sparking questions and a need to know who what and why (I've always felt art and science were closely interlinked and not the separate disciplines many people seem to assume).  One of the first things I observed was how irregular ferns are: a surprise because, like many others who had been fascinated by fractals some years ago, I had thought that ferns were among the most regularly-patterned of plants.  Looking more closely at the growth-patterns of the Male Ferns (the species name) in the following months I discovered a huge degree of variation from the "blueprint" pattern: individual leaves or groups of leaves missing or stubby, for example, especially where they grow near a solid object like a wall or are crowded together (maybe because there's no point in expending energy in growing leaves that have no chance of prospering? I haven't yet found an answer to that question but I'm still looking).

The next drawings took me from naturalistic to stylised:

(apologies for the roughness of these sketches but they are rough notes rather than finished drawings)

I also produced a series of screenrpinted fabric pieces using ferns, hand-dyed fabrics and thickened dyes - here are two examples:

I used these in two quilts: the first is called Nature's Blueprints - and Improvisations.  The ferns here are based on actual ferns in my garden.  It uses the printed panels, my hand-dyed fabrics and machine applique and quilting.  I have not shown it here as I may want to enter it for a show.  There is also a slightly smaller quilt in this series, which I will not show here as it has been selected for the Contemporary Quilt Breakthrough exhibition at Quiltfest in Llangollen next month, so I will not be showing it on my blog until after that exhibition opens.

Then followed some linocuts I did for my printmaking class at Leeds Art college - these are the first two in the series.  The first was intended to be the closest to naturalistic, though it has a strong degree of stylisation.  The print is hand-coloured using watercolour pencils.  The second is strongly influenced by Peter Randall-Page's linocuts (see previous posting)

During this time I was also producing a series of Journal Quilts for the Contemporary Quilt Group's challenge: the idea was to begin naturalistically and become increasingly abstract.  The first, the September JQ, used a print made by pressing one of the ferns used for screen-prints onto fabric, then free-machine quilting the image produced.  The October journal quilt uses the stylisation and techniques used in the larger quilts.

November's JQ, Fuzzy Fern, uses lines rather than shapes and is made by cutting back layers of scrim:

Whilst the last one December's JQ, which I have called Electric Fern because it reminded me of a neon sign, simply focusses on the basic ferny line, to me essence of fern:

I had intended to give ferns a rest after this, but then I went for a walk in Wytham Woods and saw this clump of ferns growing on a tree:

which set me off thinking again...


Anonymous said...

Nice post on the fern. Mine have all frozen back this year - probably a good thing as they are beginning to take over the entire place.

Love the fern on the green background. Great piece. Did you screen print the positive of the fern or the background? I'm guessing that the green is added, Let us know when the exhibition opens so we can see the final piece.

Julie said...

It's been interesting to see the processes you went through Sandra. It gives a good insight into the finished pieces (some of which I've been lucky enough to see!)

Sally Westcott said...

I've been working with feathers and ferns over the past few weeks. The ferns fascinate me. I love the movement you have with you ferns.


Lyn said...

what a fab post! i really want to start to sketch again, thanks for the inspiration!

Robin said...

Great diversity. Thanks for explaining the process.

Jasmine said...

I can really see the connection etween inspiration and end results. Your work is beautiful.

ArtGirl/California/United States said...

how wonderful!!! thank you so much for sharing your creative process. i love your art work, so detailed and lovely!

magsramsay said...

Great stuff!! You're so right about observation ( and the continuum between art and science) You've made an excellent job of abstraction - I can't switch off my botanists brain when it come to attempting this for plant subjects ( too many years of being made to draw them 'properly')
Look forward to seeing your piece in Llangollen

mooch said...

Blimey, you are creative. I do like ferns and you have captured their essence very well.

I especially like the first two drawings. They're great.