Outdoor Art in the Dunes

Sarah Jane Richards on Painting in the Dunes........

It was a blustery windy day on Sunday as we met at the st Lukes Church. There was a good mixture of people, a few were regular visitors to the life boat road beach, living locally and walking it regularly, others came from further afield and were less familiar with it.

Fiona Sunners, the Gems in the dunes project manager introduced the  project and talked about how people can get involved with helping protect the coast and some of the rare species than rely on it.  I then introduced the painting project – emphasising the importance of really beholding the location and absorbing the environment – not just through sight but through sound and smell and feel. I then spoke about basic techniques in building up layers of a painting, looking at putting a ground on first and then building on top.

Everyone went off with their palettes and paints and found a spot they found inspiring. Some went quite far and chose the top of the dunes with the large vista of land, sky and sea. Other found quiet little hidden nooks with beautiful plants, colours and strong shapes. As I walked around everyone I could sense a real calm and reverence as they took in their environment intensely, picking out colours and shapes to place on the canvas. The wind was very mischievous and some people had a bit of a fight to hold on to their materials! Sand blew into the paintings, paper folded in the wind, all captured the wild coast in the paintings beautifully.

After an hour and a half, we met up at the carpark to share our work and talk about the experience. Fresh, windswept faces and lungs full of sea air, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the session, were really inspired by the landscape and loved painting – there were even calls for a regular outdoor painting club!

and Drawing in the Dunes.....

The weather had turned a bit cold but the sun was warm and bright as everyone met up at Crosby Nature Reserve. Fiona Sunners, the Gems in the Dunes project manager, took us on a tour of the site first, pointing out different types of trees and plants, showing which ones were indicators of wet land. Everyone was thrilled to see a few dragon flies darting around the lakeside and Fiona spoke about how the dragon fly larve had strong pincers allowing them to feed easily off soft little tadpoles. This area has a lot of frogs but no Natterjack Toads and she discussed at length how the landscape here was different from further up the coast due to dune erosion and man made structures. We spoke about the vulnerable species that the coast supports and how import it is to protect them.

Back at the car park I handed out the drawing boards, fully prepared and ready to go. I really wanted people to be inspired to look closely at the different types of foliage and to capture this with exciting mark making. I introduced different mark making techniques and spoke about building an image using background, middleground and foreground, looking at negative space and  editing the view to make a pleasing composition. I brought different types of  pencils, graphite sticks and erasures for people to use.

Everyone then wondered around the area to find a spot that inspired them – and a spot that would be comfortable for them to stay there for the duration of the workshop. As everyone got started I wondered around, talking about their choice of view and how they are going to approach the drawings.

Sian Hughes on Cyanotypes in the Dunes....

Everyone gathered in the Discovery centre to collect their individual boxes ready for the field work:  including  ‘catalogue’ cards for making notes or a sketch and  a foil pack with 4 pieces of light sensitive paper. After a brief introduction from me on the process we all set off under the guidance of the Dunes experts Fiona and Andrew who took us to a section of the Dunes and outlined what there was to see and use for the Cyanotypes.

People found a comfy spot and settled down to choosing plants and grasses to expose , sitting in the sun while the light did its work.  Lots of chatting with the experts to glean more quirky information on the plants, and quiet mindful waiting for the exposures to work.

Back in the centre we rinsed the exposed papers to reveal rich blue and white photographic images of the Dune plants. Lots of excitement and a sense of achievement and discovery of wonders of the hidden Gems in the Dunes.

and on Porcelain in the Dunes.......

A rainy and windy day that brought out the team spirit of the group and showed how poor weather need not affect art and outcome.  Fiona and Andrew, Dunes experts, joined us again on the walk to a different site where we worked on picnic tables near the coast.

Lots of plants to spot and to select under their guidance , with an eye to what would press well into the porcelain to create a precise and permanent impression of their delicacy.  Group rolled out porcelain and cut the pieces into circles to hold the plant impressions.

They selected one piece to  be fired and exhibited with the Cyanotypes, and kept the others to dry and hang at home.


Sarah Jane Richards and Sian Hughes

Back from the Brink Community Artists




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