I am not good with heights or indeed with the wild outdoors. As a child of the city, I used to spend summers with friends in Lincolnshire. Daughters of a farming family, they were perfectly at home running wild all day with their father’s horses, up trees and lighting fires. I was not. I was unfit in almost every sense and, put up on the farmer’s expensive hunter, allowed her to run onto the main road before falling off and needing stitches. With the wisdom of age, I see that I was not the clumsy idiot I felt, just skilled in other ways. Navigating the tube with ease by ten and possessing a Londoner’s knack for jumping on and off moving buses. This was the seventies when kids were free to roam and, provided I had the sacred 2p for a phone call, a fair chunk of London was my playground.
These days I work with landscape and you’d think I’d be better at being out there. Sadly, it isn’t true. I’ve just a couple of days drawing, first on the North Yorkshire Moors and then at St Abbs Head up in Scotland. The moors were everything you would expect from a Yorkshire December bar the snow, while St Abbs Head is a magnificent length of Scottish Coast: picture a rucked-up candlewick bedspread falling into the sea from a great height.
I’m fit enough these days, but not what I would call comfortable. You can see it in my urgent, ‘get me out of this weather and into some dry/warm clothes’ sketches. Add the dizzy plunges of St Abbs Head and I go from grumpily uncomfortable into properly scared. This part of the trip I alternated between a sort of locked-knee mincing walk and, anywhere near the edge, I opted for all fours or a sort of amateur commando elbow shuffle flat out. Nobody falls off a cliff lying down – am I right?
You’d think I’d give up landscape for bowls of roses and cityscapes, but my work is increasingly looking to wilder places and I think there’s probably good reason. It’s my discomfort and craven fear that makes these places so damn exciting for me and so much more productive for my printmaking. It’s the ‘hiding behind the sofa while thrilled by Doctor Who’ syndrome. Perhaps I’ll get happier at being out there, though probably not, but I’ll feel the fear and keep on going regardless.
This week on Ask an Artist podcast we discuss writing an artist statement. Funnily enough I don’t say anything about my clumsy and reluctant embrace of nature in mine, but then I think they’re best kept short.