Tales from the Wood

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Terracotta Bird Workshop at Cley Marshes North Norfolk

A much underrated ceramic technique, terracotta is an ideal medium for short time-scale workshops. Simple red clay, a single firing and a lifetime's polishing with beeswax.

This day-long session started with basic observational drawing from the seclusion of a bird hide with more contextual, landscape studies. The aim is to form a - very generalised - concept of the subject matter (in this case, a bird sculpture). Then, after practicing some basic terracotta techniques, the students start to construct their hand-scale sculptures.

Using an adaptive approach, we follow a very playful process of working the clay and reflecting on each new material outcome; always asking the question: 'could this be adapted to the concept of bird sculpture'?

Working in this way, we don't impose any dangerous pre-visualisations on the material, rather, we let the material make its own suggestions on how things develop. Slowly but surely, we reflect, discard, adapt, and finally, edge towards commitment.


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Terracotta Bird

Last Sycamore Vessel?

Here it is, the last black sycamore vessel…well probably.

As there are no more suitably-sized trees to be thinned, at least for a while, I'll be turning my attention to other projects. Sweet chestnut will have to feature in the future, particularly as I've planted over a thousand, and in the meantime there's a few, more mature, chestnut specimens to be felled. Sweet chestnut has very different working characteristics to sycamore, it cleaves easily but isn't great for turning and burning.

Chestnut coppice is a wonderful material, but it will be a while untill we're ready to take the first cut. In the meantime, I can only wonder how the new saplings have managed to survive and even thrive after the long Norfolk drought, but I guess being a predominately Mediterranean species it has adapted to these drier conditions.

With climate change, now a certainty, the planting of new woodlands needs to take heed of these newly predicted climatic patterns as it will only be a matter of time before we see our traditional broadleaf woodlands struggling to regenerate and survive.

Last Sycamore Vessel ?


SwC

Pine Needle Black

I'm having a break from charred sycamore vessels. Mainly due to an unpredictable loss rate (I guess inevitable, when you torture a perfectly good piece of turned wood with a blow torch) and now that most of the thinning has been done, we're running out of suitable trees.

So, after some experimentation, I'm making a few black ceramic pieces with chestnut handles.

For previous work (below) I made a wood-fired muffle kiln, to carbon-impregnate the ceramic body after a previous stoneware firing. The new batch however, will be blackened in a similar way to the Raku process: removed from the kiln at red heat and immersed in a carbon rich material. Sawdust is usually used for this, but pine needles create a wonderfully deep black that seems to really impregnate the body.

I took a macro-photo to see the blackened body in detail - nothing particularly conclusive about this, but it seemed a good idea at the time and I wanted to test the new macro attachment for the phone-camera. Impressive little gadget I thought, for something that looks little more than a fancy tie clip!





Version 2


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Overstood Sweet Chestnut Coppice

It will be 14 years until the new chestnut coppice is ready to crop, so until then, I'll have to make do with some rather old and neglected specimens - classic 'overstood' coppice that hasn't been managed for years. Not really a worry, as there is always plenty of straight usable wood even in the most untended and sad looking individuals.

This is a characteristic, which in my experience is relatively unique to sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). Even when crowded out by insensitive over-planting it doesn't seem to contort and twist like, for instance, hazel or ash. So riving it up and shaving it down for steam-bent handles, it's still an absolute pleasure.


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Emma et al

So soon after the planting, a series of storms (the most recent being Emma) did their very best to flatten the new sweet chestnut coppice. A little disheartening, but most saplings survived the ordeal and after rehousing in new tree guards they are now ready for their first spring.

Storm Damage 1


Storm Damage 2

Sweet Chestnut Coppice

Probably a rare event in modern arboriculture, but at last, the first sweet chestnuts are planted as part of a new coppice.

The 1000+ specimens are being complemented with 20 clumps of oak which will eventually be thinned to leave 20 oak standards. The chestnuts will be coppiced on a 14 year cycle as will the hazels planted on the edges.

Interestingly, there has already been a distinct character-change in the bird life visiting the site, with barn owl, green woodpecker and linnets being regular visitors.

Also, those mixed oak and conifer edges look perfect for woodlark, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.



Planting