On paper

I really like paper. I especially like painting sheets of paper and then tearing them up to make collages for sketchbook pages – I find this much easier than drawing on a blank page with a pen or pencil. I like the accidental shadings that occur, and the blocks of colour. It’s like patchwork, really.

sketchbook page, collage with painted paper

I’m in the process of making two sketchbooks: one that explores the marks on ancient rocks and stones, and one that explores the marks on ancient landscapes. I find land particularly fascinating because it holds so much time and has witnessed millions of years of life. Land and ground can be synonyms, and grounding is what happens when we connect to the land.

sketchbook page, collage with painted and textured papers
sketchbook page, drawing over collage
Sketchbook page, cut and torn painted papers
sketchbook page, mark-making over monoprint

While I’ve been working on these pages, some thoughts about the fiction I’ve read recently have been weaving themselves together. A couple of months ago I read All Passion Spent, by Vita Sackville West (first published in 1931), which is about an elderly woman who, when widowed, decides to live where she chooses and on her own terms. There is a passage at the beginning of Part Two, where Lady Slane finds that for once she has time to reflect:

‘She had plenty of leisure now, day in, day out, to survey her life as a tract of country traversed, and at last become a landscape instead of separate fields or separate years and days, so that it became a unity and she could see the whole view, and could even pick out a particular field and wander around it again in spirit, though seeing it all the while as it were from a height, fallen into its proper place, with the exact pattern drawn round it by the hedge, and the next field into which the gap in the hedge would lead. So, she thought, could she at last put circles around her life.’

Sketchbook page, collage – ‘so could she at last put circles around her life’

I recall seeing a fascinating interview with the actor Liz Smith a few months ago, and she said it’s only when you get older that you can look back at your life and begin to see the recurring patterns that have always been there. You don’t notice the patterns at the time because you’re too close to recognise them.

In another novel I’ve read recently, Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood (1996), one of the characters, Reverend Verringer, speaks this line:

“What becomes of the soul? We cannot be mere patchworks!” (p. 471, ‘Pandora’s Box’)

Patchwork, silk and cotton fabrics

All these thoughts and patterns are coming together, like paths converging, and it feels as if I am going somewhere. I am still drawing the map, but I have a compass and a vague sense of direction. I am travelling slowly, on foot. Step by step, or stitch by stitch, or piece by piece, it will come together somehow, in its own time.

And *of course* we are all patchworks. What else could we possibly be?

Author: Karen

Textile and mixed media artist

11 thoughts on “On paper”

  1. this is a fascinating post … I’m not sure if you are referencing petroglyphs in your sketchbook “that explores the marks on ancient rocks” but the third image does have a sense of the American Southwest, where ancient peoples quite literally left their marks on the land and the rocks …

    and I’m in awe of the diversity of your painted papers … the varied textures, palettes and iconic marks … such a wondrous trove to draw on

    1. Thank you Liz, yes I’m mostly focusing on the cup and ring marks that you find in the north of England but I think a lot of the ancient stone carvings worldwide share very similar motifs. I love painting collage papers, it’s one of my favourite ways to unwind.

  2. I love your insights– your collage papers make me want to paint. The concept of landscape seems to have changed for me since Covid. I live on an island in Washington State USA–rich people are buying up land and changing it for their trophy homes. BUT we have organizations that are seeking to keep the important landscapes –time and weather changes everything. But–staying at home has given me a greater appreciation of the place that I live.

    1. Thanks Janet, the whole concept of buying and owning land is bizarre, really (and I say that as a home owner). The land is here so much longer than we are… and yes, covid has had a lot to say about being at home.

    1. The Reverend Verringer isn’t a particularly pleasant character 🙂 But quite right, there’s no ‘mere’ about it

  3. Such a thoughtful post that resonates strongly with me on several levels. I share your interest in ancient stone marks, something so compelling about them – all the effort to create them and no way of knowing why, and so the endless wondering. Lovely work x

    1. Also fascinating to recognise similar marks on rocks all over the world like some kind of universal consciousness. Amazing really

  4. My journal I’m working on is based around my dog walks which are along a Roman road and an ancient drove beside the village. I often wonder how many feet have actually trod that way and how exactly did they cope with sandals and sabot when I’m up to my ankles in muddy wellies.

    1. It’s a fascinating thought, isn’t it? I often wonder who has stood on the spot our house is built on. I know it was a meadow before 1925, but I have no idea what it was before that. Your journal is brilliant by the way 🙂

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