Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Disclosure !

Naked trig, A Project’s Progress
Exclusive Pictures and Methods Exposed

What’s so special about trig points? I was asked this recently, by a lady with emulsion in her hair who answered her door by leaning out of the upstairs window of a quiet country cottage. What are they even for? Aside from being a handy place to empty a thermos or a serviceable plinth to strike a pose upon for the traditional summit photograph. “They put lasers on them and they all join up” I was told by one farmer. Part of a top secret military air defence strategy, suggested Local Press around their time of construction. Alternately, and in all likelihood, they were built by the Ordnance Survey as fixed points for observations to be taken from during the Re-triangulation of British Isles (1935-62).

Observation is my first fixed point. Central to all the adaptations of method, the substitutions of subject matter, is this, I just love looking at things, trying to make sense of them with my hands, and all the amazing other stuff that happens in between. Prior to this project, as my work increased in complexity, I sought to exploit more reliable means of observation, projecting from plans, and measuring angles, using any means at my disposal, other than copying from a camera. Hence plein air.

Regarding the picture as a projection of the visual sphere, a measurement of the apparent angle between two cardinal points, combined with a known length, that is, the length such an angle would produce upon intersecting with a given surface at a given distance, will result, if you take all angles, in a graticule, radically simplifying the task of recording observations, providing an internally consistent framework in which to ask questions of a location, such as how does this relate to this. vice versa does the location illuminate the projection. And here we have the continuity of method which first suggested to me trig points as locations for a series of pictures.

Curiosity is the other cardinal virtue, if it can so be called. Disenchanted with the transitional seams encountered in polyhedral projections, I wondered what was on the other side of the seam, how far does it go? unable to imagine, I took it as a proposition and ventured into the realm of exponential tangency, the gnomic projection. Taking the cube root as defining the obliquity of an infinite plane, how else to to arrive at a composition, but by the familiar tools of crop and rotate?

A series specific format was conceived as fixed ratio one to three, In an attempt to isolate variables, the ready capability of modification to one to pi, cemented the panoramic credentials of the ratio. A foot by a yard was deemed portable, ergonomic, but had far reaching unforeseen limitations, reducing the viewing distance of some pictures to an uncomfortable intimacy. The horizontal/ vertical format was intended to be modified as required.

Bryn Iocyn, Conwy

Simultaneously investigating and reconciling the characteristics of both the location and projection was another important premise, Looking for reasons, and visual opportunities. Not that it ever easy, as Gombrich Points out, to distinguish between thought and afterthought in the making of art. This characteristically entailed taking notes and multiple graticules in to the field, and testing out compositions before putting pen to paper as it were.

Reasons influencing materials, A Ply-wood substrate objectifies the image, emphasising its solidity as an object while the grain discloses the fact that it is a section of a greater whole. it’s also quite versatile and robust. Pastels, mixed. Colour was such an important attribute to being on location, that line alone left me feeling short changed. The broader areas covered by pastel than the point is capable of also held promise of an economy of means. Touch is important, and roughness evocative. fix for durability and layering.

Rhiwledyn, Llandudno

Hoskins’ Making of the English Landscape, is worth quoting for the similarity in sentiment at the opening of both the project and his book, elegiac on “seeing the natural world through the eyes of men who died three of four thousand years ago... On some desolate moorland, it is even easier to feel this identity with the dead of the Bronze age who lie nearby under the heathery blanket of a burial mound… there are many such timeless scenes, and there is an acute and melancholy pleasure in this mental game”.

The fact that you can’t seem to step foot outside in north wales without stumbling over five thousand years of modification to the landscape, by man and nature turn in turn, much of it preserved by the reversion to pasture did little to ameliorate one fact which completely escaped my in proposing the project, that that majority of visual information from any given summit is confined to a narrow band on the distant horizon. The extended field of view granted by the projection on the table is of little use then. A number of strategies present themselves, confine the view / crop the graticule, work at a larger scale, or change the location to one with greater subject sweep. To the satisfaction of my curiosity, but at the expense of decisiveness and a little more legwork, I went with sweep.

Bryn Euryn, Rhos on Sea

It’s in the nature of gnomic projection, that a single plane can never be a total view. This is useful in a situation where the area of interest is limited to one particular subject, but increasingly I was wrestling with it. On the Orme, the natural sines of the slope suggested to that a cylindrical projection would have greater sympathy with the site. Retaining the axial obliquity of the preceding projections for continuity.

The question of what is relevant, what necessary, to include in a picture, is brought into sharp focus by the contrast between the dense foliage of Bryn Euryn picture and the stark and open Gogarth panel. The issue is of great antiquity, and I would be reluctant to generalise beyond individual cases. Suffice to say that it provides an indication of a tendency without which there would be no creativity whatsoever, that is, the impulse to do something completely different.

Gogarth, Llandudno

Such an impulse might also lie at the root of the appetite for verticality which developed around this point. Blog feeds, twitter, the vast majority of web pages employ CSS sheets, we are more perceptually attuned to the vertical now than perhaps at any other time. Also, practically, fitting a horizontal 1:3 panorama into a feed 550 pixels wide will result in a pitiful loss of scale, nine times smaller than it’s vertical equivalent.

Reconciling activity and the weather has occupied a good deal of thought I must confess, Masses of heat, cycling up hills followed by long periods of inactivity in exposed situation called for some novel solutions, well, novel to me at least. Which after much trial and error, can be said briefly to consist of a light shower-proof wind layer and the wonderfully warm, light, affordable, robust and DWR treated Army surplus snugpack softie suit with indestructibly chunky full length zips. Optional sherpa fleece mid layer, snood, pilots cap, fingerless gloves. It is little wonder that the OS confined observations at trig points to late spring, summer and early autumn “when the weather was more settled and conditions more conducive to difficult, delicate work in hostile terrain”(John Davies, Primary trigs in Wales, 2012)

Prenol. NGR SH something or other

Weather solved, the massively optimistic proposition of undertaking the locations in distance order had to be contended with. It’ll only get easier, I told myself, new challenges, raise the bar, further, faster, that’s the spirit. Which would be perfectly acceptable, if the method employed on the locations weren’t so protracted as to require a month’s worth of visits, without the expedient resorted to by the OS of camping near by. The psychological effect of distances increasing exponentially, a kind of lateral vertigo, was by no means accounted for in the proposal. Neither were instances of Hostility or situations of “nothing of interest” (CPAT HER) if only I has started the other way round, then it would have only got easier. Well, that’s not an option, so the options are, find a more economical method, go smaller, adapt, or share the fate of the Irish elk. So, Painting it is.

Change of Locations
Such a smile on my face when, in addition to the decision to pursue painting as a medium,  I woke to the realisation that the working assumption of Pillar sites only was just that, an assumption, and could be could be opened up to include the many more, and hence closer sites without pillars, which were employed by the OS to fill the gaps in the Primary network.

Change of Materials.
Observe, the drying time of Acrylic Paint, how portable, and durable. The stability and versatility of double matt drafting film as a painting substrate, think of the possibilities.
Now, my brush work is a bit rusty, and my method non existent. What a great position to be in!
No crutch of manual dexterity, No prescribed formula, just plenty to be discovered and much to get to grips with.

[Picture to go here]

Change of Method.
Niggling, at the back of my mind was the suspicion that by measuring angles, even if it was only a few cardinal points, to be subdivided and rendered on site and by eye, measuring, at all was somehow cheating. Excusable, serviceable, if the object is to make sense of and accurately portray an enormous amount of information, or if an unknown nature of the projection is itself the subject of enquiry. Neither were motives I had to hand.
Once this suspicion had had a chance to germinate the desire to rid myself of the graticule, to fly as it were without a net, became overwhelming, and the opportunity of developing a method devoid of the temptation to solve problems of relationship by reaching for the compass and clinometer instead of employing preferred methods of purely perceptual geometry, became irresistible.

Recreational investigations into the properties of pentagons led to my recognising pentagonal angles, at numerous locations, 18, 36, 72, 108, I was literally seeing stars, everywhere. the aperiodicity of pentagons, exemplified by Penrose tiling means that every point is achievable by subdivision of a pentagonal grid, they behave capriciously, mutate, almost organically, the intersections are sweet, and they contain the golden proportion of one to Phi, numerical analogue of growth where A is to B as B is to A plus B. Further, the height of a pentagon or golden triangle, as they’re equivalent, is about one and a half times the length of it’s base, So good old 1:3 gets a pentagonal makeover.

[Picture to go here]

My Love affair with pentimenti has come to an abrupt end, in my own work at least. I came to resent the richness of oblivion, the layers of mistakes, corrections. Thinking laterally, with a desire to retain these layers, to allow them to speak and remain unadmonished, The possibility occurred to me, of turning the layers side on, and each into a strip, a vertical trench into the visual sphere, where alla prima observations might rest untroubled by subsequent alterations, to intersect, with economy the greatest number of horizontal relationships of colour and tone, to see the way things change on location, to condense the broadest of sweeps into choppy geometric synopsis of paint, to evoke rather than describe, to generalise from an accumulation of particulars, This is appealing.

Also as micro giornata, they constitute a strategic response to the limited open time of Acrylic under a stiff breeze, similar to furlongs in the open field system, which were practically and physically defined as the amount of land which could comfortably be ploughed by one man in one day.

Speaking of which,

That is all.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Coming to terms + Mods.

This blog is no monastic garden, no well pruned compact garden hedge.
It’s reaching, sprawling and full of holes, anxious to justify, just as quick to deny.

It’s not a How to guide, nor a travel book of north Wales, it’s not an and then I, or an thou shalt.  This blog is no punchcard, no sketchbook, no wish you were here, It doesn’t even flippin rhyme.

Ah but wouldn’t it be good If … some open handed account were given of the modifications, the alterations, changes in direction, the things a picture couldn’t hope to say,  a friendly line or two to read between.

Or better yet, if some subtle suggestion were able to creep past the heavy curtains of self censorship; Here is a thing, a thought, a place, a reason, see it stand or bow on terms of it’s own.

With that in mind, observe a few light hearted mods, which, having brought me pleasure in proportion to the difficulty of the problem they purport to solve, and which, being capable of sustaining further inferences, I share here.

DSC_0260.JPGWhat’s that? a dimly lit picture of a filthy carbon fibre brolly, so what.
Yes, but why carbon fibre and why is it white? What’s with the cable tied rubber tubing replacement hinges at the crown, and the resin’d and rolling hitched polyester button thread tension struts? that’s all very well, but I don’t really care enough to devote my valuable time to such trivial questions, why don’t you just tell me? -exasperation-
I hope you didn’t hurt yourself when you took that photo, it looks like you’re falling over. Yes that was intentional, something about disorienting the viewer, or making a composition which is both contrived and capricious. Requiring superhuman stamina and unnatural flexibility to execute the ridiculous pose necessary for such a shot, and hold it until the light was just so.

So what am I looking at, the weed? No not the weed, If that were a drawing or a painting I definitely would have left that out. But that’s the best bit, and the focal point for nearly all those shiny lines. And don’t you find it bumpy with elliptical wheels, and whats that on the front?
Well I’m glad you brought that up, it’s a prototype for a new type of disk breaks, the allly alloy angle bar at the foot of the low rider front rack supports a portfolio which gets caught up in the spokes or threatens to fall off, a highly effective means of slowing you down. So you got tired of wearing it on your head then? Yes, and the aerofoil of such a configuration is only of limited advantage.

Tell us about the tripod and board which fit in the folio, tell us why they are so much smaller than the pictures you’ve been toiling over and haven’t published yet, tell us about the acrimonious dispute over access rights, the vigilantee saboteur, tell us about the Barrow that wasn’t, or the impenetrable army of ewes, or the half term tide of tourists, about pareidolia and the bishop's head, the thousand yard ponies, the austere and the ornamental, the impossible skies, tell us why trig points, what it’s all about, and why you seem to have changed your mind.

All in good time.

Friday, 14 March 2014

At Prenol, your lordship

Not the aromatic hydrocarbon, nor the species of ant, but, you guessed it, a trig point, on yes, a hill, on the bend of the river Cone-egg by Smug-valley, overlooking the Slippery head of the witch, Bare bilberries, Bald scab, Weak wheat hill, and the tall ridge of the lake of the shoals, amongst others. Sadly, Fridd Wanc is not visible from the spot or I’d have told you that it means itchy or lusty pasture.
Closer than these, a riddle of field boundaries leap to and fro, strewn as though an endless ribbon were still attached to the tail of some distant doe.

A warm welcome from the local dairy farmer, Tim, which is welsh for Tim, with tales of fighter planes at fifty foot causing calves to abort, and doubtless, milk to curdle. Tales of rain which falls on only neighboring fields and an old weather saying which stuck with me, that the mountains look closer before the rain.

Out there in all weathers, getting on with the job. The farmers pragmatism doesn’t preclude his appreciation of poetry, but does serve to highlight the distorting lens of romanticism. The notion of landscape as a pretty picture results in an inverted relationship with the land itself. note. this thought is not complete.

Some things I meant to say

On the Great Orme, Y Gogarth, or Cuckoo of the bear, courtesy of translate. An outlying limestone fortress, and island in waiting. Tales of the extensive and ancient copper industry there are well told, the acne of open cast mining in the seventeenth century is still visible from space, as are the well combed medieval ridge and furrow field systems and a number of hut circles, the exposed nature of some of the sites, in contrast to the leeward agricultural activity, does raise questions, why put yourself in that position? why indeed.

The dramatic north east face sees little of the sun in the winter, looking for light, not least to make my life easier, the golden glow of the middle brown limestone in the hour it takes for the sun to rise and set behind the clouds is best viewed from west shore. on the other side, coming round the top corner of marine drive, near the temptingly titled rest and be thankful cafe, to be hit suddenly and simultaneously by the full force of the sun and the wind, demanded careful consideration.

What’s the subject? the thingness, the relatedness, the experience, or it’s ability to arouse and sustain interest in any form.

The post apocalyptic artillery range, still used as such by some, certainly appealed to me. Where islands of gorse and brambles lapped by plush velvet moss drift across a palimpsest of tarmac and foundations. yeah. The equinox of slope and sea. That did it for me.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Post hoc

Back through the door, casting off layers,  the feeling has returned to my fingers, I am greeted with a disarming question. Dad, why don't you just take photos and then do your work at home?

There is a word for thoughts which colour your actions and influence the choices we make without first passing the scrutiny of reason. Prejudice.

The question was sincere, so I answer. I like the way you see things change. The time it gives you to notice, things you might otherwise miss, the challenge and urgency of siezing them before they change again.

I would like to have added; And because the drawing is more than the image, it's the experience, of getting there, being there, feeling, thinking and seeing there. And I like that too.

When I was a child I would talk to the weather. Argue and compete with it. While mostly grown up now, and a little less quarrelsome, an element of this remains.  Ok wind, we'll dispense with the detail.

Perhaps I am prejudiced. Who, after all, can claim to be in full possession of the facts about anything.

For people working towards verisimilitude, cameras are great. Another valuable tool in the painters kit. I suppose I'm just looking for something else.

Sunday, 24 November 2013


Autumn Leaves got me thinking. As these things tend to do. Current observations are casting new light on old work. Here, some thoughts, on physical archives and tangible interpretations. 

What's the life expectancy of an idea, in an age of ephemeral media, the democratisation of knowledge and it’s proliferation through the internet.

All entities, digital or otherwise, are ultimately dependent on the longevity of their hosting or their capacity to proliferate as a meme.

It may be taken for granted that digital copies backup hard copies, but with digital natives, there is room yet for hard copies to back up the digital originals.

I speculate that we may yet see hard copy websites made available, in some form like the desktop rolodex animated gifs, but a bit more comprehensive. 

When the compulsion to back up is felt perhaps more keenly by us all, and in light of recent fires at the internet archive, I find myself asking: How long do things last? What makes something worth keeping?, Worth sharing? It’s capacity to remain pertinent?, To sustain new interpretations?, How can you measure interpretive potential? Is it like potential energy- like a spring- the more you invest in it the more it will yield?, Is there an SI unit for ambiguity or simplicity?

How pressing is the desire for tangible things in a digital age, the desire to look, to touch, to draw.

Looking recently at leaves lining the forest floor, each fragile coloured curl, stood for me as a web page, in a fleeting technicolor mulch of information, capable, we trust, of sustaining new growth.

a bit of digging

You bear, you rider and ruler of many, and guider of the chariot which is the receptacle of the bear. We are being introduced to Cynlas Goch, 6th Century King of Rhos, who’s dark age fortress, over foundations of an iron age settlement, once crowned this bryn. 

Bryn Euryn commands a strategic position at a pass on what has become the pan-european route E22, overlooking Nant Sempyr, literally, the valley of forever, which takes its name, more prosaically, from the legion of romans slaughtered there under the command of one Semperonius.

While we’re on toponymy, Bryn is the masculine form of the welsh for hill, Rhiw being the curvier, sort. Euryn is probably eponymous, as I am unable to effect a direct translation. possibly relating to Einion Yrth, (Einion the impetuous), King of Gwynedd and grandfather to our Cynlas Goch. (Blue-Hound the bloody). John Northall suggests that Bryn Euryn means Golden Hill. Much is made of the fact that the surrounding area, Dinerth, means fort (den / home / receptacle) of the bear, with reference to the above passage from Gildas’ On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, in which Cynlas is compared to the rib-toothed second beast of the apocalypse (Dan. 7.5)

Which is all very well. But no mention is made, anywhere I am able to find, of the spot chosen by me to represent this bryn. Observation, imagination and conjecture have free reign here. 

At the top of this hidden hanging valley, the dense, yearning vegetation opens out at the foot of an overhanging limestone cliff, sheltered from the prevailing wind and rain, a series of scarcely perceptible rectangular enclosures, terraced into the nape of this nant, like the plateau of some derelict, verdant baroque double staircase, peppered with weary moss clad limestone sentinels that might once have crashed through walls or roofs, continue their slow march towards the sea.

Evidence of recent occupation, the remains of a fire, empty deodorant bottles, a vestigial rope swing, and a broken bakelite cigarette case, betray the continued appeal of such places, and indicate that the topography may have been similarly utilised by people in the remote past, differing less than we are apt to imagine, from ourselves.