Arty with Your Hands

I’ve never been an overly arty person. I enjoy art, but I’m not talented and I don’t do anything arty on a regular basis. Whether this defines ‘arty’ I’m not sure, but I did do GCSE art at one stage. I didn’t like it much even though I had an amazingly inclusive teacher who allowed me to explore the tactile element of art and encouraged my ‘unique perspective’ on the world. Though this was brilliant I found myself frustrated. I may not be arty but I am ambitious academically and there was something about my consistent C/D (which was stubbornly attached to my work no matter how long each piece had painstakingly taken me) that tainted the experience. It seemed no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t move up a grade to a stable pass. Once when sitting in Maths with my Teaching Assistant, waiting for the teacher to arrive, we had the discussion: “How can you grade art?”. I don’t think it is as clear cut as the stickler specifications and effort evaluations that it is made out to be in schools. How can art be evaluated fully without standing in the pupil’s brain as a tiny neurone and assessing the emotion, understanding and perspective they have on the said task? Like I said before, my teacher was amazing, but I can’t help but think that the gods of all things ‘exam’ didn’t quite have the capacity to mark my different perspective on the world. To cut a long story short, I got sick for a month or so and had to give up some subjects at school and fish drawing in art was quick to go.

I like tactile things. I can see some forms of visual art- big, bold and basic are the best bet for my peepers- but I just prefer the tactile or haptic medium. Touching art gives you a physical connection to it instead of the distance needed to admire a picture with your eyes. You can feel what the artist is aiming for and you can analyse things that you would miss if you were simply gazing. “What is the purpose of this very straight line?” or “Does this curve express deep rooted emotion?”, it gives art a whole new lease of life. I like the tactile world so much that I have a ‘bag of tricks’ filled with feely things and fiddle toys. I find that having something to fiddle with or feel has a calming affect which really helps me.

But it is only in the past few days that I have started exploring how I can make tactile art myself. I’m not a huge fan of glue and it’s sticky and slimy texture, so I was sceptical in how far I’d get. I started with the basics and did some clay work.

Picture of two pieces of brown clay. The first is rectangular with the imprint of the back of a leaf on it. Underneath in indented braille it says 'Peace'. The other piece of clay is flatter and wider with an indent of a flower and some flower buds on their stem.

This was pretty straight forward to do and I was very pleased with the results. I used flowers and leaves from the garden to roll into the clay and once I was satisfied it had been sufficiently compressed I peeled the plant away. It leaves a very clear outline on the surface of the clay and is easy to find and to trace with your fingers. I also brailled ‘Peace’ into the bottom of one of them with a skewer from the kitchen… because why not?

Today I decided that after yesterday’s success I wanted to try and get another sense involved in my arty awakening. I decided smells would be interesting to throw into the mix so I commandeered the herb rack. The kitchen being raided appears to be a common theme in my work. My first experiment was with a large pot of Paprika. I can’t ever remember tasting paprika, and being aware of it anyway, but the smell is fairly distinctive so it was a good choice.

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This was a lot of fun to do and I basically went mad on the paper. I didn’t use any tools or paintbrushes because I figured it would be better to use my hands to make something designed for ring fingers not retinas. I splodged some old water colours I had kicking about in my room to make some raised dots and added Paprika to Gesso to make an interesting beige. I thought about the smell and what colour I would link it to in my mind so I threw in some blue watercolours too. In an interesting mix of paprika and water I also seemed to create the outline of a person. I think the person is jumping a hurdle or obstacle, which gives it a nice link to my current state of post-GCSE-ness. Totally unintentional- but I’m proud of it all the same.

Picture of a page with different shades of yellow. Herbs are scattered in clumps like clouds around a raised butterfly.

I repeated this with yellow and a pot of ‘mixed herbs’. I’m not sure of the deep meaning of the yellow sky, herb clouds and watercolour butterfly yet but I’m sure I will think of something. These pictures are really tactile, still smell of herbs no matter how ambitious you are with the paint and they look pretty cool too.

When presented with tactile art people tend to be cagey with their hands, they either eye up the piece and make an instant verdict or just give a tentative swipe of their finger on the surface. There’s no need to be cautious though, because you wouldn’t control your eyes in this way if it was a poster you were being presented with. It’s fine to separate your senses for a while and just focus on each tool of your understanding one at a time. Because that is what senses are in a way, together they are a toolkit that you can use to understand anything and everything, but it is up to the individual themselves which tool in the box they prefer to use most.

Flying, Trees and Unfiltered Beauty

Dalby forest has always been one of my favourite places to be. For exactly that reason, it is a place to simply be. For a person who spends the majority of their time on the internet in one form or another I am surprisingly against the way technology has crept into every corner of our lives. I think it is harder to develop ideas due to this: as soon as one thought comes into your head you tweet it, and with a zap of wifi it is gone from your head and given to others instead. No one pays much attention to where they are anymore- they will find a spot of beauty to put on instagram but in the bright lights of their phone screens they will not notice the beauty of the tree bark, or the stars, or the clouds ambling above. What isn’t being realised is that social media is acting as a filter for our senses and our minds, we are remembering through facebook status’ and not the way things felt, looked or tasted. It isn’t enough for your mind to store things for you anymore, it has to be burnt into cyberspace and shared with others as if their minds are sociological hard-drives for backing up your personal memories. Stop. Just stop. This advert from 2011 makes my point.

I’m not trying to sell you a holiday here, but you get the idea. One of the things I like about Dalby Forest is that it is a signal black spot, not a jot of signal to be found in the entire forest. This is probably partly to do with it being situated in the North Yorkshire Moors (a location not renowned for its connectedness to the outside world) and partly because it is just acre after acre of very tall and beautiful trees. So even if you do take pictures on screened devices while you are there you at least get time to take in your surroundings, and the reason you felt taking a picture to be necessary, before sending it into social cyberspace. There are a lot of things to take in too, you don’t need to look very hard to see the unavoidable abundance of nature and greenery. However in the words of William Blake:

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

Even if you aren’t quite as enthusiastic about trees as myself you will at least note the height and expansiveness of these particular ‘green things’. They are everywhere. And yesterday it was in these trees that I climbed.

Go Ape is an adventure outward-bounds type assault course suspended in the tree tops of the forest. There are several places around the country that you can try similar, but be warned it is not for the faint hearted. I took on the challenge of Go Ape with a friend and despite me being the one in the team who is not scared of heights it was still slightly hair raising at times. I am not a monkey, nor a bird, and being 120ft in the air is not the ideal place for a humble human. After signing some documents in case of fatal injuries we were given a rigorous half hour training session, which involved mostly learning how to attach yourself on and off each platform and the importance of being attached to something at all times. Once actually on Go Ape we were confronted with many challenges: from your average balance beam to tarzan swings into cargo nets. Just in case you were to forget whilst on the huge wooden structure that your life was in your caribbeanas’ metallic gates, there were giant yellow signs on each activity with a picture of a falling man on. The poor man who was careless with his caribbeanas…

We managed to survive the adventure just fine, and definitely kudos goes to N for getting someone with low vision around the course in one piece. The highlight was certainly the zip wires which flew me through the air and between the trees in line with the birds. It is a strange feeling to be doing nothing, literally just sitting, but to be travelling so fast and doing something that humans were never really meant to do. I could feel the space around me; in my toes I could feel the ground they are accustomed to walking on so very far below and in my hair I could feel the oxygen that the trees had pumped fresh from their leaves for mankind to hold in their techno-addicted lungs. That’s when, at 120ft and approaching the ground, that I decided that beauty is found in different ways, in different things, by different people. Like William Blake says, what I don’t notice is someone else’s Mona Lisa. Then I hit the soil.

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