Getting to Know Our Environment: Workshops 1 & 2

Workshop One: Experimenting with natural inks and cyanotypes.

The workshop took place in unassuming garden tucked away behind the hall of Balsall Heath Church Centre. Even in autumn, with fallen leaves in various stages of decay and few flowers still in season, the garden remained vibrant.

It’s the garden – from the diverse plant life to the cobbled floor and bricked seating area – that served as our inspiration as we worked through various experiments.

We began by working with natural inks and earth pigments kindly provided by Camo, one of the artists involved in running the workshops. The dyes are made from naturally found materials such as beetroot and sweetcorn husks, resulting in a surprising range of hues.

A swatch book of natural dyes

Participants were encouraged to make use of and interact with their surroundings in any way they could think of. From using different plants as paint brushes to applying pigments and inks directly to the garden using natural found materials as stencils, the goal was to engage with the space as creatively as possible.

Silhouette prints using earth pigments

During this process a whole new field of vision was opened up, homing in on the variously shaped leaves and foliage, paying attention to the often-overlooked minute details of nature. Once you begin noticing these details you simply cannot stop! 

The nature of this art – coming from and in collaboration with the natural world – is reflective of the natural cycles of life. Camo explained that the inks we used will not keep their exact pigment, but instead will change and develop over time. Inks and pigments applied directly to the ground will be washed away with the rain and it will be as if they never were. Just as the landscape must shed its skins to make way for each new season, these processes can be endlessly reinvented. This made the focus less about producing a perfect outcome and instead about the pleasure of the process and connecting with our environment.

Working with the natural inks

It was interesting to see how each person utilised their found tools in a unique way to produce an outcome that captured an essence of nature as they relate to it.

Natural ink outcomes

Another technique – explored with the expertise of photographer Dan – was cyanotypes. For this process we collected foliage from the garden and decided how to arrange it on the cyanotype paper.

Found materials for the cyanotype

Cyanotype prints are produced by exposing specially treated light-sensitive paper to the sun, so that the silhouettes of whatever materials you choose to place on the paper are left. It’s kind of like a picture taken very slowly by the light.

Cyanotype outcome

The activities in this workshop provided a way of capturing a moment in nature as something solid and tangible, something made up of the temporary that can be kept long after the plants used to create it have decayed. It was energising to interact with and be appreciative of our environment and the nature that surrounds us.

Workshop Two: Poems and pictures.

Back in the garden once again, it was time to get even further acquainted with our environment.

This time the focus was all about what we could see, capturing our surroundings in a more precise way using language and technology.

Under the guidance of poet Bohdan we each claimed a small square of the garden as our own and began listing everything we could see, in as much detail as possible. I found this activity very grounding. It made me realise how much often goes unnoticed, and how much is waiting for you if you only dare to look.

Finding our squares

Once this was complete, we each had created, in a sense, a written photograph of our chosen square. This led us nicely into the next activity of capturing actual photographs. We used magnifying glasses and macro lenses provided by Dan to get in as close as possible to our desired objects. Again, the focus was on the minute details, singling out what caught our eye and snapping it up, this time through a lens rather than a pen.

Macro photography

With our brains packed full of visual imagery from the activities so far, Bohdan presented us our next challenge. He set a timer for two minutes and asked us to produce a poem of exactly 6 lines. The time constraint meant there was no room for hesitation or doubt to creep in, only time to create. We repeated this twice more and behold, we were poets!

Some two minute poems

To round up the workshop and bring the visual and written together, we each selected our favourite photo to be printed out, and wrote a corresponding poem alongside it. The photos and poems produced can be found below.

As in the previous workshop, the variety of works produced is impressive, as is the endless inspiration to be found in a single space.

I left the workshop that day with an extra keen eye for detail, and an increased fondness of the church garden we’d been getting to know so well.


One comment

  1. It was a wonderful experience attending the 2nd Workshop. Pleasant surroundings and the way we had to quickly make observations and find our Square of the ground and make observation and photograph the area as a whole and then in greater focus to get Macro details of the environment we were observing. Enjoyed the concept of doubt the photography and writing some prose about it

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