Incommunicado @ the 201 Gallery

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When artist and curator Lada Wilson invited me to exhibit in 201 telephone box gallery, I felt very honoured and excited at the opportunity. What a curious and unique little venue, which has been re-purposed as a result of changes in the way that we now communicate. Lada took over the disused telephone box in 2018, in the small, picturesque village of Strathkinness, near St Andrews. She won over the community with her idea to re-purpose the phone box into a gallery which would exhibit a rolling exhibition programme of a diverse range of contemporary art.

My initial thoughts surrounding the venue, and the fact that it was formerly a functioning telephone box led me to ideas of communication. Who would I most like to call if I was given the opportunity to do so? even if I was given the phone numbers of the numerous celebrities or famous people that I admire, there were many that would not be available to talk –no longer in the land of the living. This is why I arrived at the name Incommunicado.

Then it dawned on me that although I may not be able to communicate with them, they are still able to communicate with me through one of the most powerful mediums that exists – music. For most of us, music is a quick way to induce nostalgia and this has become the subject of extensive research. In a recent experiment in the Netherlands, researchers at Tilburg University found that listening to songs from their past made people feel not only nostalgic but also warmer physically.

As an exhibition piece, I decided to make the phone box into a shrine to those whose music helped to shape my adolescent years in the 80s but whose lives have sadly been taken. When a celebrity passes away, our Social media news feeds always tend to be bombarded with people reacting to the tragic news. There will be always be some who jump on the grieving bandwagon; rushing to report it first, whilst feigning interest an interest or loss that the person has passed away. Then there those who are truly shocked by the tragedy, or deeply saddened over the loss. But, for every few genuine outpourings of grief, there will be a few negative comments from those who are sick of people jumping on the RIP bandwagon.

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I can see their point… How many of us did actually know George Michael, Donna Summer or Whitney Houston? But it is unfair to generalize by accusing everyone who does this  of making a stranger’s death all about themselves – because it goes much deeper than that for some of us. For dedicated fans, these celebrities have been a big part of our lives. We’ve seen them on TV or if we’re lucky- in concert, we’ve sung along to their music, we’ve read their biographies – and, as a result, they – in a way – have become an integral part of our personal lives. After all, don’t many of us turn to certain films, songs, or TV shows when we’re feeling low? I know that when I’m having a bad day, I love nothing more than pouring myself a drink and tuning in to Absolute 80s where I’m guaranteed to hear music which will take me to my happy place. People grow up with certain figures in their lives, and that shock when they pass can be a frightening thing, and remember that losing someone who’s been a consistent factor in your life is a stark reminder of your own mortality.

Found Object Assemblage

For the main exhibition piece, I decided I wanted to make a sculpture which incorporated found objects, as  objects themselves can often trigger feelings of nostalgia. Some of us keep a collection of objects which are dear or meaningful to us in an effort to remember and relive the past. We may use keepsakes to stimulate memory, especially to trigger fond memories. In the act of collecting nostalgia, a magical relationship develops between collector and object, which places sentiment above monetary value. In her book ‘Evocative Objects’  which reflects on our association and relationships with material objects, Sherry Turkle argues that objects serve a purpose beyond that of their original use, by way of the emotional relationships we form with them. They act as tools which help us to shape our identity and facilitate a connection between people, places culture and time.

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As the daughter of 2 avid collectors, an interest in objects is part of my genetic make-up. Since an early age, I was encouraged to hunt for unusual objects at jumble sales, car boot sales and in charity shops. For the past twenty years I have continued this quest to scavenge for objects which remind me of my youth. It’s no surprise that treasure hunting has become part of my practice, and that my studio bears testament to this.

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I visualised this piece (below) before creating it, and am happy to admit that the final result is not far from my original idea, give or take a sprinkling of glitter.

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My treasure hunting proved successful as the turntable was sourced from a local car boot sale, the vintage mannequin legs and hand from a scrap store, and the mirror from a broken ornament.

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The placing of the mirror on the turntable is designed to emulate the appearance of a sundial, which casts its wistful shadow of time over the analogue music player. The perspex was added to give a bold 80s geometric aesthetic using a contrast of pastel pinks and blues with black and white.

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In Memorium

The plaque was a careful consideration in homage to musicians from the 80s who have contributed to the nostalgia of my adolescence. I decided to give them their birth names for two reasons; somehow I considered this to be perhaps more respectful towards them, as I had not known them personally. Secondly, I felt it might provoke enough curiosity for the viewer which would cause them to google the names to find out who they were better known as and also to find out a bit about their lives.

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If, like me, the thought of all these musicians who are no longer with us makes you sad or tearful,  consider the positive tweet by a guy called Dean Podesta around the time of David Bowie’s death; ” remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and George Michael.”

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The exhibition opening was a pleasant gathering of artists and community, where the work was introduced in situ, before I gave a talk about in the local community centre. It was well received and the audience seemed genuinely engaged with the theme, asking some really pertinent and interesting questions. The exhibition is scheduled to run until the 28th April so if you’re in the vicinity, please feel free to take a look.

Boy George and Culture Club Life Tour

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Its all thanks to Clare Ollif, my sister in law, that I got the best seats in the house at the SSE Hydro for this amazing gig. To meet Boy George, my childhood idol and pin up had always been on my bucket list. My last attempt to try to meet him was to write to Jim’ll Fix It, but thank God my letter didn’t get answered as the consequences of that could have been horrendous!

My mum was going into hospital for a minor operation, and I needed to take her in on the same day that they tickets were on presale. Thanks to my wonderful sister in law who went online for me with all of my details, passwords etc, she managed to purchase 2 VIP tickets for middle front row for myself and Emilia, so the next few months were wracked with anticipation.

Why is it that usually when you plan for something or really want it too badly, it never happens? Well in this case, thankfully it did happen, although we did have a couple of near misses along the way!  I was owed a days overtime back off work, so I took the  Thursday off, and Emilia and I travelled down on the train to Glasgow.

Two minor hitches were that she had a really sore tummy, possibly due to wearing some tight jeans, so we had to buy her some really loose track pants and some paracetamol to try and settle things. Then, when we arrived at the hotel, I stumbled and fell out of the taxi! How embarrassing, and I was actually crying with pain and shock. I could have broken my hip or twisted my ankle, but thankfully I survived. The Holiday Inn was described as being 5 mins from Theatreland by car…well I can tell you it certainly was not! Especially in rush hour. More like 15, which made a hefty taxi bill whenever we needed one.

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The goody bag contents plus a scarf that I bought at the gig, and the set list which one of the roadies handed to me after the gig

After getting dressed up in our glad rags, we headed to the Hydro by underground from Central station.  On the tube we spotted fans everywhere mainly from what they were wearing and their age range. Once in the Hydro, we were asked to form an orderly queue for VIP, and were given goody bags which consisted of a tote bag, a signed programme, a set of badges and a cardboard mask of Boy George on a stick. We were so chuffed at this, it was a great start to the evening to get all these souvenirs each. We had taken a couple of 7 inch Karma Chameleon singles with us to get signed, and to our dismay, found that one of them was no longer in Emilia’s small handbag. It had either dropped out whilst in the queue, or someone had pocketed it. We had our suspicions who this might be, but could not prove anything.

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We then stood for the majority of Belinda Carlisle’s act in a queue to meet the band. I wan’t overly bothered, as I’ve seen Belinda a few times at Rewind. When we finally got through to see the band, I was overwhelmed with nerves and anticipation. How would we get our photos taken? Would they sign the single for us? Would we get individual or group photos? The photographer turned out to be a really nice assistant, who took my phone and took a photo firstly of me and the band and secondly of myself and Emilia with the band.

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Boy George is formidable! He is huge! Really tall, with a really big head. His make up was incredible. He said “Give me a hug my darling, lovely to meet you…” and I got a hug and a kiss on each cheek from him . WOW! The rest of the band were gorgeous too. Jon Moss was not on this tour, but I had the pleasure of getting a hug and kiss from Bassist Mikey Craig and Guitarist Roy Hay – such handsome chaps! Then Emilia walked up for her photo. “Oh look at you, you’re so cute, I love your style,” said George, and I have to say that was a huge compliment coming from him. She was dressed up to the nines, with her Stella McCartney military style jacket on, ripped jeans, gold glitter ankle boots and a genuine Philip Treacey hat. She had written him a letter and included a brooch that we had made him, and she also offered him her hat.

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“Oh no, you keep it my darling, my head is far too big and I’ve got loads of hats anyway. It looks great on you.”

The assistant asked if I wanted to be in the photo with Emilia, and I stood in between him and Roy Hay again, while George put his hands on Emilia’s shoulders. It was a great experience, and i still can’t believe I met them.

The rest of the night was amazing. We sat in the middle of the front row listening to hits both old and new. My favourites were Time (Clock of the Heart) and Miss Me Blind.  Seeing Time performed was a real treat and watching Roy and Mikey playing all those guitar snippets in the introduction was amazing.

Another real highlight of the evening was Roy Hay’s memorable guitar solo in Miss me Blind. It’s one of those guitar solos I always sing in my head, so to see him perform it live was such a special experience for me.

The backing singers were excellent too, as were the other musicians. My only regret is that my filming of the event was a bit shaky, as I wanted to dance all of the time, and also I think I must have placed my hand over the speaker as the sound is pretty dull in some of my recordings. I did take some amazing photos however, even with my old iphone 6 plus.

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Mikey Craig

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Gorgeous George… his voice has definitely stood the test of time

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George’s voice was smooth as silk and he gave a truly flawless performance. He is a seasoned professional and his integrity shone throughout the show. I hope to see him again one day, but if it never happens again at least I have the memories of this amazing gig and meeting one of the best bands on the planet.

Land of Confusion


After a while of not posting, I feel ready again to let the world know what I’ve been working on. Since completing my MA in Fine Art, my work has taken a slight change of direction. My primary interest and focus throughout my MA had been on the natural world, and the way that I perceive it – through both its fragility and beauty, to its darker (and even on occasions terrifying) aspects. The Romantic notion of the Sublime was a big influence on my studies, and I was fascinated by the ways that viewing apparatus such as the Claude Glass and Claude Mirrors were used to create a certain view of nature that was deemed to be appealing.  I, myself, became fascinated with ways to view nature through different lenses; the camera, the mirror, using a microscope and also through scientific equipment such as petri dishes full of site specific bacteria.

After completing the 3 years of study, I decided I needed a break from this theme, and I couldn’t even bring myself to venture back into Birnam Wood, the location that I visited at least 5 times a week over my period of study.  I turned my studio into a bit of a retreat, filling it with memorabilia from the 1980s, and objects that made me feel happy. I bought a record player, and brought out a lot of my old vinyl which started to really inspire my work.


Along with the music from the 80s, another influence has been the graphic illustrations of Patrick Nagel, which portray strong, fashionable and glamorous women in a simplified almost Art deco style. Nagel designed the album cover of Rio by Duran Duran. Inspired by the shapes and curves and flat colours in his work, I began to create some abstract pieces using the computer, which I then translated to paint on canvas.  I started off small scale, and happy with the results, I  decided to tackle something bigger.

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I wanted to revisit my interest in nature, so I decided to combine the abstract 80s inspired design with organic forms to create a kind of abstract, junglesque environment. I added in pixel -like shapes which represent our digital dependancy and the tensions and divisions it creates between humans and the natural world.  I named the piece “Land of Confusion”, a nod to the 80s hit by Genesis, but also because I feel we are living in a land of confusion in many aspects.

The completed piece will be exhibited from the 23rd March at Scottish Natural Heritage, Battleby House, Perthshire, as part of the PLATFORM 2018 festival.


“Land of Confusion” Oil and Acrylic on Canvas 100cm x100cm

Marc Almond’s Shadows and Reflections

Marc Almond is continuing with his prolific career with the launch of his latest album “Shadows and Reflections”. In recent interviews, Marc mentions his love of torch songs, and this collection certainly confirms that, with a mixture of hits from the 60s, from the well known to the more obscure, plus a couple of his own thrown in for good measure.

These songs really suit his voice, and are best played on vinyl to capture the mood of the era. Having bought the album, I waited to desperately purchase tickets for his gig at the Usher Hall, but unfortunately could not get as near the front as I had wished for.

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I booked into the Travelodge on Princes Street, and hastily got ready, before making my way to the Usher Hall. Shaun and Yvonne were both going to be there, but I hadn’t made any definite plans to meet up with them. I was there early, and got speaking to a lovely couple who had travelled all the way from Chester-le-Street to see him. I sat with them at the bar and had a few drinks, then finally I got a message from Shaun who had arrived.  He had managed to get a seat a bit closer than I had, but told me that Yvonne had got a seat right up at the front. I sat down and the Overture began, which was not unlike the score to a glamorous 60s movie.

Marc came on stage, looking very smart in a charcoal grey suit and cuban heeled boots, and started to get things going with “Shadows and Reflections”.  Following this was Billy Fury’s “I’m Lost Without You” and The Young Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure?” More of the hits followed, “Blue on Blue”, “Not for Me,”  but the audience remained seated and very quiet. A couple of people came in late, and he muttered a few sarcastic comments their way, obviously annoyed at the disruption they had caused.  I tentatively filmed him singing a couple of songs, as although I was about 7 rows back, I worried that he might be annoyed or distracted if he saw me. I really wanted to get up and dance, or stand up and sway at the very least but it felt like it was never going to happen.

“Embers” was beautiful. The red and orange projections warmed the the stage and I felt that this was his best performance of the evening as it felt like he was truly singing from the heart.

“Child Star” was another joy to behold, and brought tears to my eyes and a shiver down my spine.

Finally, when that memorable trumpet intro to “Torch” sounded out,  another of Marc’s superfans, Gail, who was clad in a Cindy Ecstasy style blue sequinned dress got up to dance. Immediately everyone followed suit, and after “Torch”, Marc invited everyone to get out of their seats and dance everywhere. A crowd of people headed towards the stage, and I decided to do the same, where I met up with Shaun who had already made it to the front row.  He asked me if I wanted to try to get a selfie with Marc and I eagerly nodded. He said we’d need to leave half way though the last song, so I agreed. We danced to “Jackie“, “Hand over my heart“, and “Find me Somebody“, before slipping outside half way through “Say Hello…” I had even got so close to Marc that I handed him my fur hat but he just smiled and looked a bit puzzled before giving it back to me! I should have known better as his partner is a vegan!

Shaun and I slipped out of the Usher Hall and went round to the left hand side door, towards the back of the building. We could see a large van there waiting to load his equipment in. Looking into the side door, we saw Langy (Mark Langthorne) his handsome partner and manager talking to some of the crew. Next thing, we saw Marc heading towards the door wrapped in a grey blanket, and absolutely shivering.

“Marc, can we get a quick selfie please,” asked Shaun, who is a bit of a celebrity selfie expert himself.

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Marc agreed and I got the selfie that I had been dreaming of.Marc then ran off into the distance, and we couldn’t see where he went as a bus had blocked our view, but we were pretty certain he hd gone into a posh Sheraton hotel across the road.

We met up with Yvonne, and Gabi, and then headed across to the Sheraton hotel for cocktails in the hope that we might see him, but to no avail. It was a great night, we sat and gossiped about fans, music and Marc, and had excellent cocktails in the lounge. Yet another great night all in the name of Marc Almond.

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Marc Almond’s 60th Birthday bash

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After the gig in Perth, I joined the Marc Almond Fan page on Facebook was befriended by some lovely fans who I kept in touch with about events etc. The fan club were planning an alternative birthday party for Marc who was turning 60 on the 9th July. It was to be held in The Eden Bar in Birmingham in the heart of the gay village. I didn’t think I would be able to go, as it would mean travelling there alone, and I had no idea what I would be doing this summer. However, as luck would have it, my other half and I had decided to go to the Camperjam which was held in Weston Park, Shropshire, which was about 40 mins from Birmingham on the train. I decided that seeing as I was in the vicinity I would go, so I booked tickets and a room in a small hotel opposite the train station.  I got there early, and had a look around the amazing Bullring shopping centre which is joined on to the rail station. Ironically, the rose gold trainers which I had decided to wear (for comfort) gave me the most horrendous blisters on my heels, so I had to cover the wounds in plasters and opt for very high wedge heeled sandals, which were much more comfortable.

After having a delicious curry nearby, a really pleasant Asian taxi driver took me to the Eden bar. He looked puzzled at me when I gave him my destination, so I confided in him that I was a bit nervous going in, but it was a birthday party, to which he replied “I’m sorry Madam, but I cannot accompany you on this occasion!”

Once inside I got myself a cocktail and then messaged Shaun and Yvonne, two of Marc’s stalwart fans, and was introduced to others such as Lorraine and Lloyd, who looked every bit the celebrity in his gold glitter suit.

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Posing with Lloyd!

I had made some Cindy Ecstasy tote bags which I gave to some of the fans that I had met up with, much to their delight!

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We drank special Pink Flamingo cocktails and danced along to Marc’s music all night. Marc even sent us a live video as he could not be there, but thanked us all for throwing him a party anyway.  It was a great night, and it was good to actually meet some of the fans who I had spoken to on Facebook in real life.

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The lethal yet beautiful..Pink Flamingo Cocktail

When exiting the bar, I walked through to another lounge where a drag singer was performing. “Cheerio love, looks like she’s going home alone tonight!” she called out to me over the microphone, and I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I hailed a taxi at the door.

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Marc Almond – Hits and Pieces

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I was delighted to hear that he had decided to perform at Perth Concert Hall, which is only 15mins away, so was desperate to get tickets as soon as they came available. The tickets were coming on sale online, via telephone or you could buy them in person . I nipped down to the concert hall before work, and waited in anticipation until the doors were opened. At the ticket desk, I saw Lisa, an ex-student of mine, and I hurriedly asked her to get me the best tickets available, amidst phone calls coming in to the others on the desk making similar requests.  She got me two centre front row tickets, as I had decided to take my daughter with me (who was just 7 years old at the time).


A few days before the gig, Emilia fractured her ankle on a trampoline, and had to wear a moonboot, but she still decided to brave the situation and came along with me.  We were in Glasgow the day before the gig, and saw some really cool rainbow roses for sale in Argyll Street, so we bought one to give to Marc and took it with us to the gig.


Supporting act was The Flicks, a raunchy all girl band from London, who Emilia quite enjoyed.  Finally, the moment I had been waiting for , and Marc arrived on stage. We got an excellent view in the middle of the front row, and were treated to a mesmerising visual delight, not only from Marc but from the projections behind him.


He sang a medley of old and more recent, Soft Cell classics such as Down in the Subway Torch and What through his more well known songs from his solo career such as Jackie, Tears Run Rings, Child Star, Something’s gotten hold of my heart and rounding off with his usual Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.


Neal X (AKA NEAL WHITMORE) formerly of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, now frontman of The Montecristos also gave an outstanding performance on guitar. His hair still looks amazing after all these years.


The enigmatic Mr Neal X

The audience were great, apart from a few well meaning crazy drunks who were sitting behind us and kept donking Emilia on the head with their inflatable flamingos, all in good spirit of course! I was dancing all night, but poor Emilia had to sit most of the time as her foot was hurting. She did throw the rose to Marc, but unfortunately he didn’t see it, and it got trampled on. She did get up and dance to the last song, Say Hello, and I captured some great footage of her which shows how close we were to Marc.


At the end of the gig, I lifted her up towards the stage, but unfortunately her moonboot was so heavy that she couldn’t quite make it!Marc kneeled down and kissed her on the forehead, which was a lovely gesture, I just wish I could have taken a photo of it, but was too busy holding her up! It was a memorable evening, and having the best seats in the house made it seem as if Marc were singing directly to us, which made things even more special. I’m so pleased that we both went, and that she can always say that she met Marc Almond and got a kiss from him. I plan to take her to many more gigs of my favourite 80s musicians so that one day she will be able to look back and remember these amazing experiences. To watch the video, please rewind the red timeline on the video below, as otherwise you will be directly to annoying ads that have nothing to do with this!

Birnam Wood : A Journey into the Sublime

It’s not easy to put my experience of Birnam Wood into words. With each visit, I embark on a new voyage of discovery which triggers all of my senses; I witness transient sights of weird and wonderful species, smells which range from smokey winter fires to wild garlic and pungent herb Robert, sounds of the ever present choir of birds and enjoy the sensation of my bare feet treading on the mossy carpet or the leaves crunching underfoot. In the book Birnam Wood. A Journey into the Sublime, I have attempted to document my experience of the wood, taking you off the beaten track of the well worn paths, cutting through the deep undergrowth and lush vegetation to view some extraordinary specimens which lurk in this ancient woodland. Many of these strange phenomena are both fascinating and yet at the same time repulsive or a bit frightening, leaving me with an unsettling curiosity and a cautious awareness of my surroundings.  Below you can view the book by clicking on the link, where you are also able to purchase the book if you wish.

Birnam Wood. A Journey into the Sublime (36 pages)

My Landscape Book

Cocktails and Culture

For my final series of experiments with culture, I decided to make some culture “cocktails”by mixing some of the fungal samples together before spreading them onto the agar jelly. I wanted to see if I could grow a variety of cultures which were visibly different (on the same plate), before photographing them again in Birnam Wood.


I grew three more successful cultures, in each one I included a swab of a different variety of jelly fungus, along with a mixture of other fungi as well.



Above : In situ, in Birnam Wood and Below: Contrast altered and image enhanced in Photoshop





Although the bacteria on these plates was visually quite interesting, I wasn’t happy with the photos, as I felt the lighting was not good enough, as they had been shot on a dull day. Also, because of this, the bacteria in the first photo was too dominant and looked too much like a snake. I kept the cultures in my studio, and decided to try again the following week when the weather was brighter…


The shadows do a great job of breaking up the large spreads of bacteria, creating unusual and interesting shapes within the dish. I picked different foliage, such as the fern used above, and held them at varying angles to create the shadows that I wanted.

I’m much happier with these results, and feel that they illustrate the “exotic place tinged with danger” that Gamwell (2003, p.49)* describes in her article on microscopy. They perfectly capture the impression that I want to give of Birnam Wood- a sort of overgrown “paradise”, my “garden of earth delights”, which has the potential to be just as fascinating as a tropical rainforest if one knows where to look.

I envisage these final 3 pieces, along with my favoured image that I took a few months ago, printed onto aluminium dibond and hanging in close proximity to one another in my final MA show.

exhibtion images

*Gamwell, L. (2003) “Beyond The Visible–Microscopy, Nature, And Art”. Science [online] 299 (5603), 49. Available from:

Scientific studies

I’ve been making some pencil studies of some strange species of fungi and lichen that I’ve found in Birnam Wood. Some of these drawings have been made with the aid of a magnifying glass, which has helped me to observe some of the very small details which I may otherwise have missed. I have purposely drawn these specimens as near to life size as possible, fitting them onto postcard sized paper, and have spent time carefully observing them to try to capture their forms and texture as accurately as possible.


Ramalina Fastigiata Lichen


Milk White toothed polypore

oakmaossOak moss lichen


Jew’s Ear Fungus


Black Jelly Brain Fungus

I haven’t done this type of detailed analytical drawing since I was at college studying Illustration over 20 years ago, when I remember doing a rather impressive drawing of a rabbit skeleton for a scientific illustration module.  Although these drawings are small, they have taken many hours, yet there is something really satisfying about just drawing…especially to this level of detail. It is a process which requires intense concentration, observation and precise rendering, but the results at the end of it are very rewarding.

I am attempting to do 9 of these studies, and so far have completed 5. I was lucky to find some real glass petri dishes recently at a car boot sale, which are really beautiful objects compared to the plastic ones I have been working with. I would like to insert prints of these drawings into the petri dishes and mount them in a square formation, perhaps as an exhibit in my show. The petri dishes seem appropriate as a way of presenting the drawings, as they reference science, and the small aspects of nature which are often unnoticed or overlooked.


Above: Presented in a petri dish…the shiny, new glass dish makes a beautiful container for these weird species, trapping them and keeping a barrier between them and the viewer.

An Interview with Liz Douglas

Liz Douglas is a contemporary artist who works in a variety of media, especially painting, but what I find really interesting about her work is the fact that she incorporates scientific techniques into her process to describe parts of the landscape.


Fen Pools  © 2011 Liz Douglas                                                                                   Mixed media on canvas  820mm x 820mm

Liz began turning to science by looking at microscopical geological images when her art school tutor encouraged her to bring other disciplines into her work to enrich and inform her landscape painting. Since then, she has worked with ecologists and biologists on various projects including work which she produced for her‘Mire’ exhibition in 2011, which was the result of 3 years work at Whitlaw Mosses nature reserve near Selkirk. When I look deeply into this painting, I feel a floating sensation, unsure if I am above or under the water,  as if I am looking through a glass-bottomed boat. There is a shadowy image just below the centre, which is not unlike a mysterious ghostly figure standing over the pool, or perhaps we are looking down into the depths of the pool at objects lying below. The abstract shapes which float on or near the surface look like they have been inspired by microscopic views of the algae in the pond. The subtle monochromatic colour scheme has a calming and serene effect, broken only by the mysterious dark shapes which are carefully placed within it. Ettrick-Series---willowlines-slow-thaw-1.5mx1.5m-mm-on-canvas-large

Slow Thaw (2006) © 2012 Liz Douglas                                                                             Mixed media on canvas 1.5m x 1.5m

Slow Thaw, 2008 above shows three semi-transparent tube-like forms, which lie against a warm, lilac background. The ambiguous shapes may be slightly sinister, but the warm background reassures us against fear, and their transparency gives them a delicate and fragile beauty. For me, this is an example for the sublime – the uncanny attraction which we keep staring at despite an unsettling undertone.

I contacted Liz to find out more about her practice, and she kindly agreed to answer a questionnaire for me, as I find her work very relevant to what I am researching and writing about.

When and why did you begin to use the microscope as a method of studying the landscape?      I was encouraged by a tutor in my final Masters of Fine Art painting year to consider looking outside art to inform my landscape work. I began by looking at Geology in relation to a site of special scientific interest that I was working on where microscopic elements existed in the rocks which had a visual quality. I also work with Biologists and Ecologists.I find the collaborative element and the information that I get opens up whole new worlds.

Why do you think artists are collaborating more with scientists – what advantage does a scientific slant bring to a body of work on landscape?  The scientists bring another perspective to landscape. They offer particular expertise in their field which allows the artist to explore aspects of the landscape in depth and creates new possibilities for making work. Over the last twenty or so years there has been an increasing concern about the environment and the collaboration between artists and scientists has developed. 

What do you enjoy about viewing the landscape/nature through glass? Why do you think it is a suitable tool for themes of environment or the natural world?   I find it exciting to look through an optical or scanning electron microscope at structures that are invisible to the eye.I like the whole investigative process of being in the landscape -collecting material (with permission) organising, selecting, editing, as well as dialoguing with scientists and others to inform and extend my ideas at the research and development stage. These tools reveal hidden aspects of the natural world and provide possible new visual metaphors.

Do you think that having a parochial view (not meaning to sound negative here, just considering a focus on a small element of a particular landscape or environment) of a particular landscape brings more interest to a work, rather than trying to capture a vast area?  I think that working on microscopic material from sites informs the wider landscape. The ‘place’, which is local, is the focus, where universal processes occur –e.g. seasonal change, global climate/geological change etc. It is a microcosm.

 Do you think that studying the species of a particular environment can help to capture its ‘spirit of place’? Each habitat has its own unique ecological characteristics. It takes time to work through material from a particular environment at the micro level to find metaphors that add a new element to the work and say something else about the place – e.g. spirit/essence or something new and surprising.

One of the visions of the Romantic artists was to capture the sublime, and often terrifying forces of nature. Do you get a sense of this when you look down the microscope, are you ever unsettled by what you see?  It can be quite unsettling looking at the amount of microscopic creatures to be found in e.g. a drop of water and imagining their part in the larger whole. These creatures can be x35,000 what the eye can see. That can be unnerving and amazing at the same time. I constantly tussle with notions of the sublime and underlying invisible elements when making work.

Is there ever a health and safety aspect to what you are doing, for instance, do you ever work with potentially toxic or harmful aspects of nature?  I am immensely cautious about the harmful and potentially toxic aspects that exist when working in the natural world. The process of collecting living material is safe, if you know the terrain well, although the people on any particular site of special scientific interest know that I am working there so there is an element of protection. Working with an optical microscope, looking at material in the studio at x80 has no risk attached to it. The preparation of collected material for the Scanning Electron Microscope involves a lengthy process using toxic chemicals. This part of the process has to take place in a laboratory because it is hazardous and appropriate safety procedures are used. I have to work with a technician because I am not a scientist!

Do you use a camera to photograph the microscopic images before rendering them, or do you work straight from the microscope, or from your memory of what you have seen through it? I have a camera attached to my optical microscope which is great because I can download images onto a pc to work further into them. These images are at a high resolution.The S.E.M images of prepared specimens are taken by an internal camera attached to the scanning electron microscope. They reveal a much higher magnification of minute structures. I work mainly from direct observation in the landscape, drawing and photographing and from SEM images, in the development of my visual ideas.

Any other comments you would like to make, or useful information? The scientist is rarely interested in art and finding a way to dialogue with the scientist is not easy. They are the ‘experts’ and the artist is not. It is important to be aware of the history of art when working in the scientific field as it can be a bit overwhelming at times.. I always focus on the intention of making a piece of artwork.