My residency was the last two weeks of January 2024, a perfect way to start the year! The first week was very cold, but very sunny, meaning that as long as I wrapped up well I could spend a lot of the day outside. I was particularly interested in the woodland or “celtic forest” of the area and on the first day I walked up to Arthog Falls. I was immediately enchanted by the thick layers of moss and lichens creating a rich green tapestry in the woods next to Arthog. My phone is crammed full of photos of all the interesting things I found. Once I was back in the Mawddach studio I thought about how I could make these out of paper clay, layering them up, but my first experiments weren’t successful. But this is part of the process, trying out new things and learning from the failures.
As well as photos I also collected materials I could use in my work. I hadn’t thought about doing this before I arrived but it seemed like an obvious way to connect my work to the landscape. I noticed there was quite a lot of dried bracken in the area surrounding the house, and decided to collect some bracken that I could burn to make ash glazes from. I’ve made glazes from wood ash before, but never collected the materials. Most ceramic materials come in plastic bags of white powders from the supplier, so being connected to the process of collecting, burning and making the glaze felt more meaningful. I’m excited to see how the glazes turn out. I’ve also collected and sieved some estuary mud which I will also test in the kiln.
In the second week of the residency we were forced to spend more time inside by stormy weather. I used this time to create ‘mini sculptures’, using found objects such as moss, fallen branches and sheeps’ wool, with clay that had been imprinted with texture from slate gathered from the nearby beach and paper cut into strips and shapes inspired by the woodland lichen. As these sculptures developed I found they became more abstract.
My proposal for the residency was to use the time to create a body of research which would inform my ceramic practice. Through my work I aim to create a connection with nature, but I live and work in inner London so time in the countryside is always fleeting. Now I am back in my London studio I have lots of materials and inspiration to work with; glazes to test, forms to experiment with. I can see this residency reflecting in my work for a long time. My time by the Mawddach gave me a chance to slow down and look at things around me. Inspiration can come from the little details, such as the way slate is stuck between the roots of a fallen tree. Since being back I feel like I am more observant and take time to notice the details around me, which often get missed in the rush of city life.
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Sample of Ruth's residency reflection, read the full article on her website here.
Last month I had the very fortunate experience of being one of the artists selected for the Mawddach Artist Residency, in north Wales. I shared the experience with Ellie Osborne, a fine art ceramicist. We’d not met before the residency, but I couldn’t have selected a better person to share the experience with; we are both quite quiet and found we were happy to work equally in comfortable, companionable silence or with easy, good-humoured conversation.
Scarlett and Jake, our hosts and artists in their own rights, have created something really special in the top floor portion of a grand old terraced ‘town’ house: A space for residents to live and work for 2 weeks, to create and indulge in new ideas whilst surrounded by the most stunning of environments. The constantly changing view from the studio window of the tidal river estuary was at times distracting in the most blissful way. I could honestly have sat in the window seat and taken in this view and done nothing else and have felt satisfied that I’d used my time wisely!
But, this isn’t actually what I did…
Before arriving on the residency, I had been making hand-stitched coats that incorporate stories and secrets in their linings. And I knew I wanted to pursue this somehow. I was interested in looking at seasons of change and cycles of nature & ageing; contemplating the layers of clothing that we put/pass on as we grow, and wrappings that get unravelled and rewoven to hold the subtly transformed bodies that we live in throughout our lives. Like snakes shedding skin or Russian dolls; bodies nesting inside other bodies; or moths regenerating inside cocoons.
As a general rule, when I’ve taken residencies before I have tended to pick things up as I go, and tell stories as I find them. I like to arrive with loose plans and lots of resources; opening myself up to the ways that solitude, silence and an inspiring environment guides my work and feeds my practice when I return home. I really feel like this - allowing and trusting that wandering off the path and being prepared to get lost and open myself up to something unknown - has worked for me again, something I find hard to achieve as much as I’d like in my day-to-day studio practice.
My aim this time was to make coats to represent skins, and contemplate the different phases of our lives, how we sometimes shed these versions of ourselves like silver birch bark or layer-up the coats [like our experiences and wisdom] to toughen up our skins like warriors putting on armour. Prior to coming away I happened to select myself the most perfect listening companion to my residency in the form of an audio telling of Holly Ringland’s book, The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding. There were so many echoes of the ideas in my work with her words; Folk tales of Selkies and Swan maidens; relationships between mothers, daughters and sisters; Mental health, tattoos and skin spells… so I leaned into this narrative. Seven is often a number used in folk tales to represent magical things or the arch of a journey or a trial (it also happens to be the date I was born and the house number I live at) and so I decided to set myself the task of making seven simple coats as my own ‘seven skins’. I’d intended to sew these by machine, but a missing part meant that in the end I stitched these by hand. I liked how this felt like the characters in fairy tales who have to toil over challenges to pass a gatekeeper! So, for the first 7 days, as well as going out and exploring my surroundings, I stitched 7 coats from plain muslin fabric, to act as blank canvases for the work to come. I had no expectation that this collection of coats would be completed, and full of the stories I wanted them to tell, in these 2 weeks away, but be just the beginning of a new series…
Continue reading about each of Ruth's skins on her website.
My approach to the residency was to tune into the outer season of late Autumn heading towards the Winter Solstice, while simultaneously being aware of my inner menstrual cycle. In cycle awareness, (where you are in the cycle is sometimes referred to as the inner seasons) I was also in late Autumn on arrival, descending into Winter (menstruation) and left in my inner Spring.
I listened to my body and it’s own rhythm and pace in relationship to the environment, responding and allowing this to inform my approach to the creative process.
The removal of many distractions and the quiet of the residency was a real gift and provided an ideal place to slow down enough to feel moved to create in a way that was natural and authentic to me in the moment.
The residency served as a container, two weeks offered as a "space for thought, reflection and creation - an opportunity to completely immerse yourself in your practice."
When conditions such as these are the foundation it provides a safe and nurturing environment for those visiting. It is an act of great generosity and service on Scarlett and Jake’s part. I am grateful that I received the bursary to allow this opportunity.
During the first couple of days I gently landed after a very long journey, I acclimatised and spent the time getting to know fellow resident, Asami. I went for walks both locally and further afield to familiarise with the environment, taking a DSLR camera and a small Osmo pocket action camera, and took hundreds of photos and clips.
Daily rituals unfolded. Every morning I lit a candle and wrote at my desk in my room, Asami and I would pause for tea, or find ourselves having long conversations at spontaneous moments supporting one another kindly.
One of the things that I found most striking and connected to from the moment I arrived was the bright yellow gorse in the late Autumn landscape, standing out amongst the neutral tones. I started collecting gorse petals in a jar as a daily ritual, as well as collecting my blood.
Asami and I ended up working together in collaboration in different ways very naturally. One day we set up the camera and I curled up on my bed as I was in the depths of my inner Winter to honour this dropping inward that this time and space allowed, these safe circumstances meant I could really be still and deeply surrender and honour this time in my cycle.
Asami slowly walked around and placed red thread all over my body making a symbolic cocoon and holding space for me. This felt like true inner and outer winter alignment.
Over the coming days in the studio I started painting with my blood quite late into the night. As well as playing with watercolours. Listening to music this allowed for a state of gentle flow in my practice as a continuation.
On the other side of inner Winter as I gently emerged into Spring I started walking further again ‘coming back out into the world’ after introspection, out of my kind of nest. I filmed Asami while they moved and danced outside and took photos witnessing their own performance which was an honour to be part of.
In the last few days we lay out a big roll of paper, we both meditatively moved our bodies, they played with sound and we both drew and made marks through movement in tune with one another in the studio. We noticed the marks on the paper seemed to reflect something of the rawness of the landscape. We filmed this and took photos after.
On the last day we went up on the hill close to the house, Asami filmed and gently witnessed my final intuitive ritual involving a tree, my blood, the red thread and the yellow gorse petals.
I wrapped the red thread around the trunk of the tree and slowly walked around repeating in loops. This seemed to serve as a visual metaphor for meditation. Each time I slightly lost my footing on the ground or attention even very briefly the thread got a little tangled and I would stop to untangle the thread. Once untangled I would come back to my relationship to the tree and reconnect once more in the moment. The performance / ritual ended with pouring the blood to the roots of the tree to the earth and I threw the yellow gorse petals over the tree like confetti to symbolise coming back to Spring again, this felt like a small celebration.
I stood quietly and felt I wanted to acknowledge that Summer would return on the other side of Winter once more. I was leaning against the tree, then felt called to jump down and I ran back into the surrounding trees into the distance, more outward energy returning.
This felt complete. Asami and I had been mentally preparing how we felt about leaving in the last couple of days. By the time it came round I felt ready! When Scarlett and Jake walked me back to the station, my huge suitcase in tow, looking like something from a children's storybook; Scarlett in her yellow raincoat with red wellingtons, Jake with waistcoat and mug of tea both smiling, I was waved off feeling the warmth and glow of their spirit of generosity and kindness, a beautiful memory, my cup well and truly full.
Being matched with Asami was harmonious and natural and it felt easy to do our own work and support one another by witnessing as well as collaborating.
The residency experience left me with more of an understanding of my approach and ideas to continue to explore. I will be editing a film and making work from this time. It has deepened my practice, and to trust in my intuition and my relationship and understanding of our interconnectedness.
This has been a validating experience for me as an Artist, I will carry this with me going forward and I wish to share what I have gained with others in my own way quite naturally. I am grateful for this gift of an opportunity. Thank you.
My time at Mawddach Residency gifted me with much space and time I really needed. Artistically, it feels like I have peeled another layer of onion, digging further, deeper, closer to myself and I came back with a different perspective.
It was dreamlike. I had everything I have wished for. The beauty of the natural landscapes, inspiring presences of people, the loveliest cat and most importantly: space and time. I spent every day in the state of awe at the beauty and the sounds of the surroundings. I woke up every day to the scenery of the estuary outside of the bedroom windows, presenting the cinematic view of the water with ever changing glorious dances of the ripples and the waves, which meets the mystical landscape and the sky. The sky colours the entire water often in pastel colours in pink, blue and purple at the dusk with the descending skyline in the darkness at the edge. The darkness and the silence envelop the whole place like a thick blanket, bringing calm, solitude, and serenity at night. I did not go very far and spent most of the time around the house, sometimes walked around with my big headphones on and the recorder in my hand, listening intently to and recording the ebb and flow of the water, the birds chirping, the rain dropping and my own footsteps. I savoured the ever-stretching moments of quietness while smiling at myself somehow expecting it to be disrupted by the sound of cars, which so often disturb me at my own home.
Prior to the stay, I only had a vague idea of what I was going to do, but everything worked out organically in the end. My idea was to absorb the environment through my senses and different mediums such as drawing, sound and video recording, photography and translate them through movements and music and synthesize them into film. As I wanted to be fully emersed in the environment, I focused on drawing, sound/video recording whilst keeping my movement practice on and I left the editing of the film and the music till I returned. I felt fortunate to be matched with an artist who was on a similar wavelength (Martina Ziewe). Despite meeting there for the first time, we ended up having some deep healing conversations. We collaborated and helped each other recording and filming our work. Through a process of repeating practices, I explored the relationship between environment, drawing, movement, film, music, healing in different ways.
Though I deeply enjoyed the time I spent at the residency, after returning I had reservations about the “point” of any of the artefacts I had produced. I had produced much, allowed myself to explore freely, but for what? This feeling of disjointedness endured while reviewing and bringing these disparate elements together, sorting images, listening to recordings, selecting and editing and footage. Yet upon layering the field recordings and music, what seemed vague and meandering suddenly felt cohesive and whole, and I became quite emotional. I discovered a new way to create music for me, which was to make a dance film as a kind of visual score and to improvise a composition along to, which in turn acted to score the film. As I watched the film, I noticed how my movement has changed from the early days of my stay to the later. The more supported I felt by the environment and the people, I was able to move more fluidly. It was as if my body absorbed the rhythms and the shapes of the nature and learned to open the senses further. As my body translated the features of the environment – the wind, the sun, the landscape, the presence of the other (my camera operator, the lovely Martina) – so again did I translate my body, mirroring it’s gestures musically, layering the film with both my improvised musical response and field recordings I had made. It feels like I had unlocked something of myself and I am eager and inspired to replicate, explore, refine this new process in other inspiring environments.
'Two weeks being in the residency away from our lives meant that for 14 days I’d wake up and continue with ideas that I’d had the day before, that lessons learned about media could be put into practice.
As Sam and I were both committed to working outdoors in the light we used the hours of darkness to talk and reflect. We set up an Instagram live channel where we talked with artists about landscape art and place. I really wanted to know how radical and revelatory making marks about being in a place could be. Pamela Petro, an American author who has examined and reflected on her relationship with Wales, told us how in Welsh language you didn’t own things you were with them. This certainly feeds into my feelings about landscape, I can't chop a rectangle out of ‘reality’ stick it on a board and hang it over the fireplace ( I’ll leave that to a post-modernist ,). I just want you to know that I was with a place at a point in time.
In order for the Mawddach to be special I had to ‘not’ think of it as being special place . I had to strip back preconceptions and look again. Observational drawing rewires your connection with a place and helps you get closer to it. It lets the place into you instead of you projecting on to the place.
It is so easy to say that the Mawddach Estuary is a beautiful place. You could so easily be subsumed into world of clichés. Misty mountains sweeping down to the sea, noble raptors perched on crags pondering nature’s magnificence. The sort of place that a landscape artist would want to visit, a place they would try to capture the deep longings of a sensitive soul.
Everywhere in the world can be special, everywhere means something, there is no where on this planet that has a greater connection to nature than another place. When I first started doing landscape drawings I really wanted to make images that came out of being in a place. A fortnight of drawing outdoors every day was a way of removing my filters and going as deeply into the spaces around Mawddach Crescent as I could. I drew as fast and as large as I could using media and surfaces that would be responsive. I would explore working from heights then going right down to sea level to look up. When I draw as illustrator (my other job) I very often attempt to imagine scenes, create points of view that serve a story. When I draw landscapes I want to throw away pre planned scripts, circumnavigate ‘imagination’ and find something that I wasn’t aware of before.'
- Francis Martin
My first couple of days were spent mostly indoors, in part, due to storm Babet, but also in part overwhelmed by the beauty and magic of the landscape I had just arrived in and, despite my plans, feeling like I didn’t know where to begin now that I was actually here! I sat at my laptop doing ‘research on the area’, which didn’t get me very far…
On my second day, the storm still hitting, I headed out into the dusk and walked along the estuary bed at low tide. I walked up to the base of Barmouth Bridge, the wind howling through the structure. I stepped through, and felt an overwhelming sense of stepping through a threshold, into a different space. The illuminated pools of water and sand blowing across the surface of the estuary created an otherworldly feeling - there was no one to be seen, only lights twinkling in the distance, and no ones foot steps but mine.
This walk changed my approach and during my walks and cycle rides, I began observing the layers of historical infrastructure and engineering. I thought about the concept of maintenance in a landscape as ancient, vast and wild as the Mawddach Estuary, and how these layers of infrastructure are slowly but surely being permeated and reclaimed by the environment.
The days that followed were immensely freeing and inspiring. I tend to get bogged down by the sense that my artwork has to be functional in some way. Whilst at Mawddach, I felt able to play and experiment purely for the pleasure and intrigue of it. I gathered materials from the landscape- sheep’s wool, reeds, bailer twine, silt, grasses - and set to in the studio. I don’t usually work on paper, but being surrounded by such beautiful artworks, it was hard not to be inspired to do so, and I began painting and mark making with silt and DIY inks. Working with craft and textile led processes, I then began to make purposefully delicate structures and grids, inspired by what I had been observing, to explore different scales of permanence and permeability.
I spent my second week working outside, something I’ve never done before but dreamed of often. In collaboration with the landscape, I invited the elemental shifts - the tides, the weather, the light - to interact with my work. I became really attached to a little cove to the west of the crescent and spent each day ankle and wrist deep in silt. I started with a subtle act of repair on a Victorian slate wall, then I tracked the movement of streams with slate and silt ‘drawings’, allowed the steady creep of the tide to wash over grids and compositions, and floated delicate pieces out to sea with the wind and tide. Photography became really important during this process, capturing moments of transition, and being the only record of the work - everything I made during my stay was left to melt back into the landscape, or deconstructed and given back to it.
I felt completely absorbed by the environment during these days, my senses beginning to attune to it’s many languages. I’ve only just scratched the surface of this way of working, and I’m excited to see how and where it develops.
Thank you Scarlett and Jake for the wonderfully freeing opportunity to play on the shores of the Mawddach!
We spent the first night on the Mawddach having dinner under the stars with Scarlett and Jake, discussing our lives and plans for our stay.
As a chronic planner I had researched local hikes to undergo during my first week and timetabled my days accordingly. With this being my first residency I wanted to make the most of my time and soak up everything I could. I was intrigued by this unfamiliar landscape and how it would inform my practice; would this be the catalyst to a body of work I’ve been craving?
Blue Lake, Llynau Cregennan, The Panorama and Clogau Trail to name my favourites.
I collected a soil sample from each venture holding my shovel as I walked like some kind of warrior descending the mountains which I can assure you was not the case.
Reflecting on my experience back at the studio with my samples, a portfolio of experience began emerging on the studio walls. Working in this way was a familiar process but something felt different, something that pulled me away from completely connecting to the landscape.
It made me realise how important a sense of place and experience is to my practice which was an unexpected development but one I’ll cherish. This idea of memory kept resurfacing and materialised into a series of anthotypes using rocks I collected. They presented ghostly marks on the paper which faded overtime.
I discussed this with Scarlett and she kindly offered her collection of oak galls, equipment and her copy of “Make Ink” by Jason Logan. Myself and Bethan spent Saturday night immersed in the ink making process and produced a rich brown ink that darkened over the coming days.
This folded into the second week wonderfully, spending time with my collected materials observing how they interacted with one another and the ink we made. I used shapes I found in the landscape to construct compositions and marks. Working closely with the materials I started to become familiar and a connection started to form. This process of making hasn’t been at the forefront of my practice but subconsciously I think I was inspired by working in the studio with a painter.
To conclude my stay I made an installation on a beach nearby I used fragments of bricks placed in a line, following the direction of seaweed that had washed up on the shore – not a work I particularly like but the resulting leg pain makes it notable.
Now that I’m home, I have continued working on the anthotypes and have the layered paintings simmering away on my studio walls
The residency at Mawddach Residency offered me a space to be fully immersed in my art practice, without the distractions of normal life. This felt like a breath of fresh air (literally), being surrounded by an incredibly inspiring and beautiful place, away from the busy environment I was used to back in my hometown. It allowed time for me to form a relationship with the landscape by absorbing and observing its very presence. It has been, in many ways, a deeply fulfilling experience that has enabled me to regain a sense of excitement for the future of my work.
During the first few days of the residency, I spent my time away from the studio, physically exploring the landscape. I went on long walks with fellow resident Chloe, visiting various places in the surrounding area, such as the waterfalls in Arthog, Cregennan Lakes, Blue Lake (lagoon) by the old slate quarry and the panoramic viewpoint by the seaside town, Barmouth.
I enjoyed taking my sketchbook out into the landscape and capturing specific imagery that I was drawn to, such as the sunlight that filtered through the branches of trees, or the large clouds that invaded the sky, blurring the tops of mountains. My explorations of Arthog's surrounding areas revealed the vast expanse of the landscape, which at times felt overwhelming. Returning back to the house after many exciting hours exploring the outdoors, felt comforting and I enjoyed doing this as my daily routine.
My style of drawing involves creating short marks that communicate interactions between objects. I particularly like to visualise intangible aspects of nature such as light or wind and reimagine them by creating lines that evoke the directions of light, the changing colours, or movements in the landscape. During the residency, I enjoyed taking my tools outside to sketch and study the environment from observation. In the studio, I could then respond more intentionally to these sketches, creating carefully crafted paintings and drawings that referenced aspects of the land, water, and sky that I was drawn to.
For me, drawing is an intuitive process and I have discovered that the residency has provided me with an opportunity to react instinctively and not think too much about creating a finalised or completed piece. I believe that reflection and deeper contemplation will follow later, as I gain a clearer understanding of my thought processes and the internal links between each of my works.
I found the windows in the studio intriguing for drawing the landscape, as they acted as a framing tool (similar to James Turrel’s Skyspaces), capturing a section of the estuary and the surrounding mountains. Focusing on a specific scene that changed throughout the day allowed me to notice more closely the movements of the tide or location of the sun, which created a greater awareness of the passing of time.
My time during the residency was nothing short of magical. While dedicating many hours to listening to Andy Serkis’s narration of “The Fellowship of the Ring” during my adventures through the rugged landscape, it was undeniable that the natural beauty of the place added to the overall enchantment.
Since graduating last year, having a studio space once again has proven to be incredibly rewarding. In many ways, I have come to see it as an essential component for my artistic growth and development. The art that I make is in an extension of myself, my hopes, and ideas that will lead into greater projects, many of which are yet to be realised. The residency has left me feeling positive returning to the reality of navigating the challenging aspects of the art world as a young artist. I have felt as if I have regained some of the confidence that I didn’t realise I had lost.
Jake and Scarlett have been exceptionally warm, wise, and gracious hosts. Sharing the living space and studio with Chloe has also been a wonderful experience, particularly in our attempts making oak gall ink in the kitchen. Forming connections with these kind and creative people has certainly been the one of the most rewarding parts of the residency.
I was so pleased to find the beginnings of several bodies of work on the Mawddach Residency, partially shaped by the rhythms of the environment and also the baggage of life I’d brought with me. It was a joy to spend time sitting and sketching each room, to join in on the Monday Portrait session and Thursday Portrait Club with Draw Brighton, and to be in the excellent company of Jake, fellow artist in residence Gold, and visiting dear friend Michaela.
Early on, I started working on a hand-drawn animation based on a series of images I had of my late grandfather, Frank. In the animation, he flicks through an old photo album looking at images from his past and bringing back memories. I worked on the animation in stages, drawing around 10 images at a time. Between period of drawing, I would go out and take photos and document things as you do when you’re somewhere new. Later in the day, I would flit through the images and they would mix and merge together forming their own type of animation. I enjoyed this flitting between past memories, looking at my grandad, and the present moment of being there on the residency. In some moments, I took a string of photographs and there was continuity, and others were more stand alone and staccato in rhythm.
I also worked on a series of photographs and digital prints over the two weeks. I took pictures of my own body and layered them in print with textures from the environment such as ripples in the water, patterns in the sand, moss on stones, etc. This style of making tended towards a photomontage of sorts, as I printed out disembodied parts at varying scales and stuck them together to make a whole. I also experimented with splicing images together with a view to hopefully one day create a lenticular print, which is all so exciting to test and try!
I’m not sure I can fully encapsulate in words how significant an experience the residency has been. On my journey home from the Mawddach, a cover of an old English folk song called Fare Thee Well from the 18th century came on the radio. It seemed like a perfect farewell to such a special time, so I decided to pair an audio recording of myself singing it with a collection of images from my time on the residency.
Farewell for now, Mawddach!
You can read more about Gold's residency on their blog here.
Gold Akanbi : website / instagram
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