have always been an Artist, from birth if that’s possible; it’s in my genes. My dad has always been creative and taught me how to draw, paint and explore my creativity from a very young age, now it’s the other way round. I’ve been trying to get him to start sketching again!
As a child I used books and art as an escape from reality, hiding myself in safe and magical places. That love and need for escapism has continued to be an inspiration in my practice, I like to use literature and creativity as part of my survival and sharing these fantastical worlds with others is my main focus.
I studied fine art BA Hons and graduated from Hereford College of Arts in 2015. Whilst studying at HCA, book arts became my practice specialism and my final year project has turned into a long-term one, Observer’s 99/100, which still has a way to go yet! My focus on book arts and working with literature ultimately led to paper cutting and this Fair Field project.
Tom Chivers visited our Ledbury book arts exhibition, during Ledbury Poetry Festival a couple of years ago. Luckily I was invigilating when he visited Weavers Gallery and we got to talking about my art practice, the book art I had in the exhibition and his plan to create this huge project based on Piers Plowman. Two years later I received an email from Tom, explaining the project was going ahead, outlining all his plans and asking if I would like to be involved and create a commission for the exhibition at the Poetry Library. I exploded in excitement!
or me the hardest part of the entire project was deciding what form the sculpture would take. The possibilities seemed endless but I also had serious creative block. So I decided to take a spontaneous trip back to London to visit family, view the Library space and meet up with Tom for an informal chat about the project and to bounce ideas around a little. This really helped me get a better idea of what Piers Plowman was all about and what else was happening with the project.
I kept pushing through creative block by researching Piers Plowman and medieval history a little further, whilst recovering from an operation. You definitely get lots of time to think when your bed bound, so it may have set me back physically doing the work, but it really helped the mental part of my creative process. Once well enough to move, my partner and I spent a lot of time on the Malvern Hills, paying attention to the landscape and the remnants of history, re-reading emails and excerpts and allowing my brain to flow with it all in a beautiful environment.
After lots of 3AM emails back and forth to Tom discussing styles of work I’d been dying to explore, we finally came to mutual conclusion that a 3D, paper cut landscape would be an exciting way to go. The initial idea was pretty basic, nowhere near as intricate and large as it eventually came to be. I started sketching and playing with weights of paper and the idea just sort of grew and took on a life of its own. I found I was constantly re-thinking and altering the piece as I went along, taking things out or adding more characters and details that I felt would improve the excitement of the work.
was aware of William Langland’s work but had never read or explored it. It’s definitely a very complex poem and I can’t honestly say that I understand it all, but from the research it’s clear it’s a really fabulous piece of literature, with so many themes that we can all relate to in today’s world. Who would have thought that something written in medieval times could still resonate so strongly with today’s people, issues and politics! And when it comes to the hills, the scenery hasn’t changed that dramatically over the years either.
Tom was such a wonderful help with insight and explanation of some of the complexities, theme and characters. He’s pulled together the most amazing team of people, artists, poets, scholars etc. for this project and all the help they gave to me was very much appreciated. Taking part in the project and being introduced properly to Piers Plowman is something I will never forget and one day I hope to read the entire manuscript and gain a greater understanding, maybe it will help inspire more projects.
here are many stages to creating a sculpture like this, and I work in a ridiculously organised and meticulous manner. I’m a huge lover of lists and post it notes, OCD is really helpful sometimes! The process tended to follow this sequence:
Brainstorming > research > rough sketch plan > mock-ups > measurements/mathematics & material gathering > detailed sketches > tracing > cutting > assembling > minor alterations.
All of the steps up to the point of cutting took the most amount of time but the cutting part is the most complicated, and painful part, which requires an awful lot of concentration. Totally worth the pain by the way! ‘A fair feeld ful of folk’ took approx. 300 hours and 400 scalpel blades. Everything had to work in a planned flow to make the most of each day and get it completed in time. I was a bit over-ambitious I think, but that’s me, I really like to push the limits. This got more difficult the further along I got as I was having continuous brainwaves and making constant adjustments trying to fit everything in to the vision. Luckily I had a friendly team of helpers to help me with the boring bits like pressing the paper to get it as flat as possible (I could only buy large enough paper by the roll and we had to eliminate those curves).
Getting it all cut and assembled to the exact millimetre was tricky but essential as it needed to fit the vitrine at the National Poetry Library perfectly, I don’t get many chances to have such wonderful display boxes. I was also particularly fussy about my materials, I wanted the final sculpture to look very clean and precise and stand up without added supports, so picked 300gsm textured watercolour paper in off-white.
“Totally worth the pain by the way! ‘A fair feeld ful of folk’ took approx. 300 hours and 400 scalpel blades.”
The manuscript is so exciting and I really got carried away with the details and characters! I put a lot of pressure on myself as there was no way I could allow anything less than near perfect to be on display alongside the original manuscript. Although it’s large, measuring 1220 x 700 x 250mm with a total of 16 layers which are full of intricate detail, such as the rats on the front layer and teeny, tiny windows. Each layer could be a piece of artwork in itself.
I really want people to be pulled in and excited by the story it’s telling. Enabling the viewer to see various little details at every angle; for them to feel temporarily immersed in that medieval world, to feel the Malvern Hills breeze upon their faces to hear the harpist and minstrels in the distance. I’d consider this by far the largest, most complex and exciting piece of work I’ve made to date, I’m so ridiculously happy with the final outcome.
LIST OF CHARACTERS/SCENERY ETC.
(back to front)
‘d love for the sculpture to be exhibited locally in Ledbury or Malvern at some point – perhaps at h.Art in September – but obviously it would be amazing to sell it too. I can picture it fitting really well in an institution such as a library, university or museum. I would like it to inspire people, so they can experience how the text made me feel during the creative process of this piece, or be appreciated by Langland & art fans. Ultimately, I’d just like to make people smile and imagine. If it just makes people stop and wonder for a few minutes, then I’m a happy artist and all the hard work was worth it.
Right now I’m having a bit of down time, recovering and gaining back the feeling in my fingers. I will be starting work on projects again very soon though, I have work to prepare/produce for Ledbury Poetry Festival and H.art, which are both also coming up very soon. I will leave the outcomes of those projects as a surprise for now, but you can bet that they will most definitely have something to do with paper and literature!
Explore Piers Plowman through items and artefacts that bring the medieval world to life, alongside a curated display from The National Poetry Library’s collection showing how contemporary writers from Seamus Heaney to Patience Agbabi draw inspiration from medieval poetry. The exhibition features new artworks in response to Piers by Larry Achiampong and Nicola Jedrzejczak, as well as an exquisite early manuscript of the poem loaned courtesy of Senate House Library, University of London. The exhibition is on at Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library and is free and open to the public Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 8pm.