Weed ’em and Reap

For our first essay assignment we were asked for the following:

Unit Essay

The essay will take the form of a critical and contextual review of your work, positioning it within contemporary practice and detailing the relationship between theory and your own practice. You need to demonstrate an understanding of the development of your work, and analyse the impact of the research activity that you have been engaged in. It is expected that you will make use of your research journal and other visual documentation. The essay must be 2,000 words,with a margin of 10% either way, academically referenced using the Harvard method and accompanied by a bibliography. The essay title will be negotiated with the tutor. This written piece should be rigorously edited, follow academic conventions of style which can include writing in the first person, be referenced using Harvard referencing and be accompanied by a bibliography.

I decided to base my essay on invasive plants and their uses within art, as this is something which I am currently exploring within my practice. As part of my research, I contacted numerous artists who work with invasive plants: Patterson Clark, Nicole Dextras, Sharon Kallis, Alice Maher and We the Weeds Collaboration: Kaitlin Pomerantz and Zya Levy. I would like to thank them all for their swift response to my questionnaires, and for their useful and informative answers.


Appreciative Enquiry

I joined Roshni this evening in a hangout to discuss the Appreciative Enquiry questions. 1. Think back over your experience of the MA, and find something that felt especially creative or successful. It may be a recent highpoint, something quite small, an experience that left you with a sense of achievement. Tell me about that time, what was going on? Alex: I personally feel that my Mapping the Territory piece was a successful point for me. I felt a real sense of achievement when I produced the first map, using Coggle software, but I knew that it needed to be refined and also be more creative. Pursuing the tree idea gave me a great deal of satisfaction, as it related to my interest in nature, and I enjoyed the decorative side of making the Polyshrinks and writing on the branches.  Roshni: I personally enjoyed the Task “Frame, Form and Fracture”, most especially the ideas about making something, tearing it up and rearranging everything up to give the tearing pieces new meaning. Also, I liked the idea about starting something without thinking about it being 2D or 3D (a painting, a collage, a drawing, etc.) and then gradually working things up to a point where I can choose to make it into a 3D: an installation for example or else move on to another direction. I was taking charge and I would be deciding when to call it a finished piece 2. Who else was involved? What resources were important? Alex: No one else was really involved, although my family and colleagues were very encouraging when I told them about my plans. The books which I was reading at the time helped, especially Linda Weintraub’s To Life! as suggested by Angela. The natural resources (branches and twigs) which I used to make my piece were also important, and the fact that I used natural materials also echoed my interests. The Polyshrink which I ordered from Amazon was another important factor in the piece. Roshni: I think that at that point I felt an urgency to work with objects available: Found Objects and collage and also with mixed-media. I was swinging from one technique into another and enjoying this sense of freedom where I could choose whatever technique I wanted. 3. What was it about you that made it happen? What were your strengths? What challenges did you rise to? Alex: I really enjoy challenging myself and it gives me a real buzz  to work under time constraints. I like to push myself to the limits in terms of the amount of work which I try to make and also in terms of experimenting with media which is new to me, such as using video editing software. I also tried out the polyshrink which I have never used before and to start with it was trial and error, but with a bit of perseverance I got the result I was after. I also learned to take advice from online forums with a “pinch of salt ” as it is important to experiment with materials and see how they work for me.  Challenges were keeping up with work, family commitments and other deadlines for PPP and essay plan.  Roshni : I think I wanted change and a sense of liberation from what I was doing before. Enrolling myself for another course in Fine Arts rather than Education was a well thought decision. I wanted to move on more in the artistic field and I was looking for a complete sense of satisfaction… At the time that I was doing the work, I was feeling confident about what I was doing: I was not thinking how successful the artwork would be, in fact I wasn’t thinking too much, I was only concentrating on the making. Looking back now I think the idea about photographing at all stages was very important as looking at each stage now gives me some insights about what I could have changed, explored or improved. I think the real challenge was integrating all into a piece that would look pleasing, with a real sense of unity and I personally think that is where my weakness lied. I think that working under the time constraint was a challenge too in the sense that I was working under a pressure (about planning/ being constructive about the amount of time given.)  4. What is it that you value most about your work or being on the MA that keeps your interest and commitment alive?

Alex: Since starting the MA I feel alive again. Although constantly stressed, I feel that I am thriving on the feeling. I feel that I am noticing things around me more, and I have read books which I may never have known existed otherwise. I am enjoying developing my knowledge about plants and folklore, two areas which I have always been interested in although in the past I have never taken time to investigate.
Finally, I am enjoying having a reason to make work, and feel excited by all the opportunities which this course is opening up to me. It is great to meet other like-minded interesting individuals from all over the world and be able to connect with them regularly and receive feedback and support from them. Also the lecturers are great and very knowledgeable and supportive. 
Roshni: I feel complete in many senses. I really value the quality of what I am learning and the variety of viewpoints/discussions, etc. that I am being exposed too. I value my internet friends too, there is so much sharing going on and it is very constructive too. I think that caring about the right atmosphere/support/encouragement can lead to better artistic output and I feel the commitments/ efforts and right environment that are being put into place around making this course and evolving my artistic career are well into the right and bright direction.

We spoke about the projects which we had felt a sense of achievement with, and I could relate to much of what Roshni was saying  about how she felt that the course was allowing her to get back to her art more regularly, having taught in education for 10 years now. We also spoke about the Mapping the Territory project, and she said that she liked my tree piece, and that it was a creative way of making a 3D map. She spoke about wanting to use Filography to create her map, and at first I wasn’t sure what she meant, but then when she explained I realised what the technique was, and thought that it was a really original idea. I told Roshni about my plans with weeds and plant dyes, and we chatted for a while about Henna. I did Henna Tattoos a few years ago at festivals, and had forgotten about it as a potential area to explore, so was glad Roshni had reminded me about this. It was good to share our thoughts about the course and our experiences and the fact that we have busy lives but are enjoying making art.

My Story of Art

I decided to take Elkins up on his challenge, to create a map of my own story of art, in other words a history of art that is relevant and personal to me.  I liked the simplicity of the maps that Elkins had shown in his book, and the fact that they had a pictorial element, rather than just being diagrammatic. I wanted to create a map that was not only an accurate representation of how I view my own story of art, but also one that had an aesthetic quality to it. The design of the map needed to reflect my own work, which is slanted towards natural history, ecology and the environment. I had two ideas; firstly to make a tree because:

  • I live in the Big Tree County and I encounter many varieties of beautiful trees on a daily basis
  • trees symbolise ecology and the environment and they have inspired my work on countless occasions
  • trees can also symbolise growth, the growth of my knowledge or practice, from the roots up to the tree tops, with many branches which connect and then veer off into twigs

secondly, I thought of an octopus because;

  • I have always had a love and fascination for these creatures and other cephalopods
  • I love the sea and have concerns over its pollution levels
  • The octopus is a shape shifter, it can change its shape and appearance to suit certain situations, so it could be used as a metaphor for the changing shape of art history
  • The octopus has illustrative potential (like the tree) because of its head/body with tentacles attached, and smaller suction cups within the tentacles, where informations, artists name etc might be featured.

After pondering my choices, I decided that I would go for a tree on this occasion, as it would probably be a bit easier to use for mapping purposes due to shape and height. I started off at the roots of art history because I felt that I wanted to pay homage to the prehistoric cave painters and artists of the ancient civilisations. I did not include all the ancient civilisations, the 3 main ones: Egyptian, Greek and Roman were written in bold, with Norse, Celtic and Pictish also featuring, as I have an interest in Pagan Mythology, Druids etc. Mythology and Religion are mentioned above, as the ancient civilisations worshipped some weird and wonderful “Gods”, but religion also represents the Christian art which featured widely in Western Pre-Modern Art.  From Pre-Modern Art, I climbed up the tree to Modern Art and felt that I should mention Clement Greenburg .I then marked in the Neo-Avant-Garde, who can also be considered Modernist, although they don’t always fit the definition which Greenburg considered of being pure to one medium.


Further up the tree we meet Post-Modernism and Globalisation. I could have branched out from any of these previous movements, and did attempt to do so from Modern Art, leading to Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, post-Impressionism etc. I felt, however, that this looked a bit ugly aesthetically, and although all ” isms” were important in shaping art history, they don’t specifically relate to my work, so I kept them hidden under the mega periods of Pre-Modern, Modern and Post-Modern Art.

The first major branches I added to the tree were the socio-political impacts which influence much of the contemporary art today. To the left, I branched off with race, gender, sexuality, politics (with war branching off it)and consumerism. To the right, I branched off to Science and Environmental Art, which is relevant to my own interests and practice.From here I mapped smaller branches with categories of Bio Art, Kinetics and Robotics and Eco Art, mentioning some of the artists I can remember who work in these fields, namely Laura Gurton, Eduardo Kac and Liz Douglas (Bio Art), Michelle Lougee, Aurora Robson and Curious Collaboration (Eco Art).

In the centre of the tree branches I placed MY ART, with the idea of looking at media which I use and also artists who I recall who work in these various media. Above Science and Environmental art, I added the branch of LAND ART, as this is probably something which I will endeavour to try, as a site specific installation in a local wooded area.  Mentioned here were “veterans” of Land art : Dennis Oppenheim and Richard Long, with also more contemporary artists Charles Jencks (whose work I saw at Jupiter Artland),Cornelia Konrads, husband and wife team Martin Hill and Philippa Jones and last but certainly not least, Andy Goldsworthy.


Above LAND ART I added another major branch – INSTALLATION. Here I reeled off the names of some of (but not all!) my favourite installation artists:

  • Katja Loher
  • Mark Dion
  • Peter Gentenaar
  • Ernesto Neto  
  • Yayoi Kusama

In the centre of the trunk I wrote 3D & SCULPTURE, an area which I am also very interested in. Most of the artists which I included here could be classed as INSTALLATION OR 3D & SCULPTURE, so I felt that they had been well positioned on the map. These artists were;

  • Abraham Cruzvillegas
  • Anthony Gormley
  • Mark Quinn
  • David Kefford
  • Cedric le Borgne
  • Kaori Umeda

Now I was half way around the tree canopy, and I still had quite a few media to fit in. I  placed PRINTMAKING at -45degrees as it is one of my most regular media within my work. I listed a diverse range of sub-branches under PRINTMAKING :

  • Japanese Woodcuts
  • Thomas Bewick
  • Kaori Maki
  • Clare Nash
  • Sister Corita Kent (whose work I saw recently at the DCA)
  • Rauschenburg, and
  • Warhol


I could have probably devoted a whole tree to printmaking techniques, historical developments and other printmakers who I know of or who inspire me, but maybe thats a task for another day?!

Above PRINTMAKING I managed to squash PAINTING and above that DRAWING. Around drawing I named:

  • Russell Crotty
  • Elizabeth Couloigner ( I really love the drawings in her handmade artists books)
  • Jennifer Pastor, and
  • Ugo Rondinone

The latter two work their drawings into INSTALLATION or SCULPTURE, so again these two were placed between two categories which fit their description (almost!).

There was not a lot of room adjacent to PAINTING, which is actually such a huge area, and a medium which I do enjoy (but only when painting in abstract). I added Robert Ryman because I’m very fond of his white paintings and his minimalism and “whiteness” has inspired a great deal of my recent work. I had space for one other in between PAINTING and PRINTMAKING, and, glancing up at the living room wall I saw my answer…Vladimir Tretchikoff, an icon of kitsch and a regular on grandmothers’ walls  in decades past. I have a few of his original prints.. Miss Wong, Chinese Girl and Balinese Girl, taking pride of place with some very eclectic accessories in my small living room. Why? Well, because I find a certain comfort in his work, his ladies look very serene and content, they suit my colour scheme and fit in well with the retro feel to the room. And I love the nostalgia that goes with them.

Underneath PRINTMAKING, I fitted i the final branch of PHOTOGRAPHY & DIGITAL ART, with VIDEO heading towards MY ART . I didn’t really have any room to fit in notable artists, photographers or filmmakers, although I probably would have put Werner Herzog, Cindy Sherman in there given a few inches more, also a Scottish artist Ruth Ewan who makes witty but often disturbing photomontages. It was important for me to include AUGMENTED REALITY on my map, and the Internet; with regards to the latter, I don’t know how I ever managed without it! Augmented Reality is a fairly recent technological advancement which I am keen to try to incorporate into my work at some stage.

So here ends my map of my Story of Art. I hope you have enjoyed it. I’m guessing that not all the artists I have mentioned will be known to you, but they are mostly (contemporary) artists who I find very inspiring, and I would recommend anyone to take a few minutes to look them up.


I’m actually quite pleased with what I have achieved here…I think that my goal to produce an aesthetically pleasing map has worked, and I think anyone would recognise that it is a tree, which will hopefully give them the idea at a quick glance that my work is based on natural history. I also feel happy with the content, which I suppose was the main reason to the exercise. I think I managed to include all the artists who I feel are important to me at the moment, but I’m sure by next week there will be a few more to add to the list….

Now there’s a thought…maybe i should have written the names on paper leaves, which can be stuck on and removed when I feel the need. Those out of favour, could be stuck down at the base of the tree, as if they’ve fallen from grace!

MA Visual Enquiry Reflecting on Theory and Practice

MA Visual Enquiry : Reflecting on Theory and Practice                             

Generating and selecting ideas

How do you go about selecting and developing your initial images/ideas?       Ideas are based on my interest in the natural world, the beauty and threat of nature, both seen and unseen, and also the way that we as humans impact upon nature and how nature impacts upon us. Most of the imagery which I look at initially comes from the internet, and I find Pinterest especially inspiring. I create boards there where I can archive my areas of interest to refer to at a later date. I am also lucky to have a very good library at work where I can access a variety of books on contemporary art, For primary research, I look to the environment around me. I live in Perthshire “The Big Tree County” which is a stunning landscape which has many beautiful walks where I feel totally immersed in nature. I use my mobile phone which has an excellent camera to record the  interesting aspects which I may use later in my work. I have also looked at microbiology slides to develop abstract paintings.                                                                                         Sometimes the work of other artists gives me inspiration on how to develop the images which I have sourced.  Ideas have also come from my children(!) and partner with whom I have regular discussions about the direction of my work.

What criteria do you use to select/reject them?                                                             I store all of the images that I collect either on my phone, on Pinterest, or by bookmarking pages on the web. I don’t ever delete them, in fear that someday I may revert back to a certain line of enquiry, so I suppose you could call me a bit of a visual hoarder! I suppose I start to hone in on a particular set of images or subject, knowing that I can still explore other images at a later stage.  Sometimes I upload the images into editing software, such as Photoshop, to get a feel for the possibilities available from that particular image. I also have to ensure that the images are suitable visually, ie they are not blurred (unless I want them to be!) , are of a suitable resolution and format and that the colours are adjusted to the best effect.

Are your ideas usually substantial enough to sustain a piece of work? If not how do you modify them?                                                                                                      Yes, I believe that my ideas are substantial, in fact sometimes they are too substantial, and I feel that I could create many solutions to any one idea. I sometimes feel that I need to rein my ideas in though and often find my brain whizzing off in different directions and tangents.

What do you do when you get stuck?                                                                          When I get stuck I try to get away from the artwork, take a break from it, and sometimes I start on something different, leaving the problem on the “back burner”. Sometimes, I will ask advice from colleagues, although I don’t always act on it, but it is good to hear other people’s opinions. Usually, after a few days, I will come up with a solution, or see something that inspires me to take a different direction with a piece.

Are there any ideas you would like to explore but don’t know where to start?            I would like to explore performance art, not on a huge scale, but to give it a try. I have an idea which fits in with my area of interest, but may pursue it at a later date when I have more confidence, and a willing participant! I also would like to make a natural site specific installation, but the idea which I have may result in my actions breaking the law!

Contextual Research 

What are your influences?                                                                                                An overview of my influences and interests in relation to my art are as follows:

▪   The landscape where I live and the natural world

▪   Environmental concerns

▪   Stories, history, legends and narrative

▪   Traditions, customs and folklore

▪   Haiku, which I write when I take the notion

▪   Technology, the internet and the use of innovative software,

particularly augmented reality

In terms of artists that  inspire me, below are just a few examples of many:

  • Andy Goldsworthy
  • Constance Jacobson
  • Laura Gurton
  • Michelle Lougee
  • Peter Gentenaar
  • Liz Douglas
  • Robert Ryman

How does your work draw on these?                                                                              My work draws on these through technique, style, or subject matter, depending on which artist is being referred to, but they all fall into one or more of the above categories which tie in with my work.

How do you choose the resources to research and to support your work, where do you find them?                                                                                                                The resources are chosen depending on what my concepts are. I usually start with a mind map, and generate ideas from there, which I then research further. Often ideas come to me when I am in bed at night, and I write them into a notebook and investigate them when I get time. In most cases, the internet is a great place for resources, but the library can also be very useful. I have also contacted artists and conservation projects regarding knowledge of a particular type of material, and have found them to be most obliging.

How do you position your practice in a contemporary context?

 What difficulties do you have in accessing resources?

  • I have had difficulty in the past as I have never had a real studio of my own; I have either relied on using the studio at work in between classes, or used the kitchen table at home. I have now been fortunate enough to convert my garage into a new studio, and this should be ready to use in the next fortnight.
  • I would like to have my own printing press in my studio, as the majority of work that I do is print based.
  • I don’t have a decent SLR camera, but I do have a very good mobile phone camera, and I am enjoying the challenge of attempting to take photos which look semi professional using a variety of apps.
  • I need to get Adobe CS6 software at home. I have it at work, but don’t have a great deal of time to do what I need to with it at work.
  • If I include time as a resource, I don’t have a great deal of it to spare. I currently work 4 days per week, have two young children, and they have various commitments at weekends that I take them to.
  • I would like to use certain materials which are quite expensive, such as epoxy resin, so money is an issue for some materials.


What is your framework for making judgment about the work of others? Depending on the piece of work, I will take into account :

  • The concept – is the intent of the work clear? If there a statement which explains the work it is easier to judge whether I feel that the artist has accomplished what they set out to achieve, and if they have achieved what they want to achieve, then the art should be deemed successful.
  • If the art is esoteric? If it is esoteric, then I require more information before making a valid judgement.
  • Is the art transgressive? Is it possible to adopt an impartial,   disinterested approach, or does the nature of the art shock the viewer into a “knee jerk” opinion?
  • The artistic skills, use of materials, craftsmanship, construction and finish.
  • The purely aesthetic quality . If the art is purely aesthetic, then I would look at the use of colour, composition, texture, application, format etc Would I want it on my wall?

How can you tell if images and objects, yours and others, are successful or not? How do you compare your work in the relation to the work of others?                      As mentioned above, I would take all the afore-mentioned aspects into consideration. The purpose of the piece is also important. If it is intended to convey a message or idea, I can gauge whether it is successful by self –critique and also by asking opinions of friends and colleagues. If it is purely aesthetic, then I gauge whether I like it or not, but that is my own subjective opinion.

What is successful and not successful about your current work?


  • Confident and satisfied with my work in terms of abstraction and use of colour, composition etc  Have mastered successful overlaying of monoprints with pleasing results.
  • Have got a strong interest in producing work inspired by nature, and feel like I have more idea of the direction that I am going with my work.
  • Have been trying more 3D pieces such as sculpting using willow, and plan to investigate creating sculpture and installation using other natural materials.


  • Sometimes the finish could be more refined, eg when using mixed media I need to sand areas of the piece.
  • I need to produce a greater volume of work more regularly, but this should be addressed soon by gaining my own studio to work in.

Materials and Techniques

How do you decide whether a material or a technique is appropriate or not?          I enjoy experimenting with materials and techniques, and tend to keep the outcomes in a large sketchbook or folio, so that I can refer to them later. I suppose it is a tension between the aesthetic and the conceptual again. Some materials will produce a beautiful outcome  aesthetically, but the use of them could be questioned in relation to the concept. Sometimes it is a hard decision. If I am on a tight schedule, I often tend to work with materials that I feel comfortable with.

What limits your choice of materials and or techniques?

  • Lack of knowledge or experience of certain techniques eg video, which I have never tried
  • Cost of certain materials or equipment
  • Space to store the final pieces
  • Time to create the pieces
  • Health and safety ie, hazards of working with certain materials, some of which I am currently investigating

Are there any materials and techniques that you would like to explore?                      ▪   Screen printing

▪   Cyanotype and solar plate printing

▪   Stop motion animation and video

▪   Gyotaku

▪   Epoxy resin

▪   Hogweed

Communication and Intention

What messages do you intend your work to convey? How do you do that?

What is the intention of the work? How does that manifest in the work?                   There are a few ideas that I wish to convey within my art. These are:

  • how human progress is affecting nature and the environment
  • how nature is a threat to itself eg. alien plants and species
  • how we revere nature vs how we destroy it
  • the tensions between nature and modern environment
  • the beauty of nature (both seen and unseen) which we take for granted                         I plan to think carefully about the materials which I use, and the objects and images I create, perhaps with the use of metaphor, combining found objects (natural and manmade) and referencing folklore, customs, religion and modern culture within the context of the natural environment.

Who is the audience for the work?

▪   Any viewers who see my work online, or hopefully in public


▪   Viewers with an interest in the subject matter or issues that my

work is influenced by.

▪   Students and staff on the MA course

▪   Colleagues from work

▪   Friends and family

▪   Artists who I know

▪   Critics (maybe one day!)

Who will critique your work?                                                                                               As above

What might their criticism be?                                                                                              That my work doesn’t seem to have a particular style….it is fairly transient.

Critical Thinking?                                                                                                            What have been the most and least valuable resources so far?                                The most valuable resources have been a lab technician, other artists/craftsmen whom I have consulted about materials and techniques, and local conservationists. Not all the books which I read about art influence what I do, but I still find they have some value into giving me an insight into the way other artists think, and the processes that they go through to make art.

What changes has research made to your work?                                                           I feel that the literature that I have read on contemporary art has made me consider the reasons behind what I am doing more, whereas previously I was satisfied with simply making work which I found aesthetically pleasing. I also feel slightly more confident in terms of talking about my work and using vocabulary which is more appropriate in relation to contemporary art. Also, research has made me more adventurous with my intent to use certain types of material, but also aware of potential hazards which I could face when working with them.

Have their been any negative effects of your contextual research?                  Sometimes, I feel that the work can suffer aesthetically if it is “over-thought “ conceptually. Sometimes I question whether all art that I am making should have a reason or concept behind it, or if it should just be made, with the viewer interpreting however they want to, or admiring it purely for aesthetic reasons.

What specific influences and ideas have made the most positive impact on your work?                                                                                                                                     The sculpture of Eileen Macdonagh, how she connects her art and her use of materials with nature and wider ecological issues, also the work of Michelle Lougee, whose art is similar in the way that her choice of materials reflects a wide environmental concern.