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
click on images for a larger view
I had plans to paint the full moon, to be painting "en plein air" at different stages of dusk and to capture the moonlit landscape, however, the clouds had different ideas! I couldn't see the moon at all due to thick cloud coverage but luckily, I found inspiration elsewhere.
The large arched windows in the studio caught my attention immediately and I started painting the ever-changing view at all times of day. The large tidal shifts meant that you could sometimes only see water and at other points a sand bar would appear. The weather and light effects were also constantly changing and within one day you could experience blazing sun followed by grey clouds and heavy rain followed by a rainbow. I had left my oil paints at home and was deliberately limiting myself to gouache and watercolour so I felt not only surrounded by water but also working in a watery way.
Being on my own for six days and not in my usual family routine of school drop-offs and pick-ups, cooking dinner for everyone and bedtimes, also made me feel slightly adrift and "at sea" but in a good way. The days seemed much longer and I enjoyed being erratic and painting late into the evening after walking, swimming and drawing during the day. My family arrived for the last three days and also fell totally in love with the place. Time sped up then and we paddle-boarded, swam, walked and painted together in the studio.
A highlight for me was paddle- boarding to the sand bar and making watercolours from the middle of the river bed. I have come away with a full sketchbook, a pile of gouaches and many photos as source material to develop back in my studio. Jake was the perfect host and was always around if I needed help with anything or to have a cup of tea and I really enjoyed the experience of portrait modelling for Draw Brighton. Thanks so much for this fantastic opportunity!
"The waters of the Mawddach estuary are shallow, the tides dramatic, drawing in and pulling away each day across vast expanses of sand, marking the passage of time. Time is both slow and quick here, water lapping on the shore a steady shhh-, shhh-, shhh-, wildflowers blooming with each passing day, set against a landscape of mountains that mark change in centuries and millennia.
That is how time has acted on my body and mind here, a contrast of fast and slow. Intense, brief, moments of running, drawing, reading, writing, set against a life’s commitment to printmaking as a vehicle for sustainable making and social justice."
Read more about Ling's residency and the research in to her sustainable practice manifesto on her blog.
My reasons for applying to the Mawddach residency, on some level, were quite simple. I needed time away from the distractions of daily life, back to basics and to trust that the creative process would take me where I needed to go. This residency offered me the space for exploration, personal growth and time to reflect on the next stage of my practice.
After that initial sense of exhilaration of being far away in Wales, responsible for myself only, it was quickly followed by panic. Was I truly going to ‘trust my creative instincts’? What was I thinking! This could all go horribly wrong. I rapidly set myself some daily drawing exercises to stave off the panic. A self-portrait a day for starters and some continuous line drawing helped the rising fear fall away.
I soon became aware that I was visually documenting my time by the Mawddach, which felt fulfilling. It also chimed with part of my proposal-which was to allow my direction to be dictated by my surroundings. It could even be said, I was starting to trust my instincts. When I was drawing and painting in the studio, I experimented with colour, form and mark-making based on the lovely interior space that was mine and Ling’s for two weeks. And when I was outside, I would do the same. This way, it didn’t feel too laboured and gave my days a natural rhythm, somewhat dictated by the weather-if I was inside, or outside. My daily routine started with that quick self-portrait in my sketchbook, I made coffee, and wrote in my reflective journal-planning for the day ahead and reflecting on the previous day’s work. I found walking and drawing incredibly uplifting. Working solely from life was a big change from my usual routine. It was deeply satisfying and although the painting was more challenging I allowed myself the time to experiment without feeling guilty that I wasn’t producing usable work. It was why I was there after all!
By the second week my work relaxed, I relaxed, and I was completely absorbed, as I’d hoped to be. My residency partner, Ling, was a great source of inspiration, as I could see how focused she was on achieving her own goals, which helped me keep on course. We also had printmaking in common, which made for good company in the evenings and stopped me over thinking things on those awkward creative days. Jake and Scarlett made us feel very welcome and free to inhabit the space in any way we wanted to.
My sketchbook was the first place where exciting things started to happen, and there are drawings in it which will keep me developing new ideas for months to come. There will definitely be changes to my practice as a result of this residency. Drawing on location, with etching plate in hand, will be something I do a lot more of from now on. Also, working straight from my sketchbook drawings, rather than relying on photographic resources as I have been doing for years. My final painting came from both these sources; life and my sketchbook, and it felt like a real creative breakthrough (a rare thing). It was a wonderful parting gift to myself to have completed a self-portrait that I didn’t want to lob straight out of the window.
I had mixed feelings when it was time to pack up and return home. I had missed my family, but going from the stunning shores of the Mawddach estuary, with nothing to distract me from my art, back to a busy working family life, was never going to be easy. My overall feelings, however, are of gratitude and joy at the incredibly creative time I had away from the hubbub of daily life. I’ve gained what I’d hoped for, a renewed insight into my practice, a deep curiosity to keep exploring, and so much more that I can't put into words. Given time, I will put what I can’t formulate in words, into pictures. I am edging more into my imagination and representing things in a way that feels more honest and direct and for that I will be forever grateful to the Mawddach Residency.
My work is influenced by the environment I am in, and almost a collaboration with, so being placed in such a transient and mystical landscape was such an inspiring experience for me.
I started the residency by going on a few long walks (when the rain subsided), to forage some local materials and gather a sense of the place. On the first day I was in awe of the twisting trees and gathered enough oak galls and acorns to make a rich ink, using Barmouth bridge iron to darken.
The rain made a blue landscape in the beginning, but the yellow gorse was so vibrant in contrast. I extracted the colour from the flowers (with only a few pricks) and made a gorse ink.
Throughout the residency, on my little adventures, I was collecting these colours and textures of the landscape, in the green ferns that broke through the orange bracken, in the sheep’s wool caught on branches and the clay and earth around the estuary. These two weeks were very grounding and helped me slow my rhythm back down to a more natural one, guided by the weather, tides and sunlight. This mindfulness, as well as being surrounded by artists who used drawing so beautifully, inspired me to pick up my oil paints again and focus on the tiny details I was seeing in the landscape!
Going forward I am going to try and mix these two together and try and make some oil paints out of my natural dyes/inks.
Megan Willow Hack: instagram