Monday, 5 October 2015


What has Abby been up to?

I have been working hard on subversively bringing creativity into my day. As many creative people who find themselves in 'normal' jobs will attest: managing to stay true to yourself and keeping your head together whilst leading the most double of lives comes down, in the end, to sheer willpower and dogged determintation. A DAR strip which always comes to mind in some of the darker moments is Be An Artist.  Frame Three, in particular: It will be worth it one day!! It will be worth it one day!! 

I have been visiting a few exhibitions here and there too. North East Open Studios across Aberdeenshire, Phyllida Barlow at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Kwan Young Chun at Dovecot Studios and Futureproof15 at the Peacock Visual Arts. I will share some of my thoughts on these exhibitions in another post.

Now onto what I have been spending my time making. 

In addition to Sisters: To and Fro - the first phase of which we completed mid-August - I have been pottering on and experimenting with my abstract drawing/doodle project Clouds from which I have compiled a small series of four pocket-sized books.

Why clouds?

Clouds are a myriadal contrast of every possible angle on the world. Great floating masses of frozen ice and other particles they can be dark and dangerous: acting as the herald of an oncoming storm; or they can be gentle and light: something simply beautiful to look at. Or perhaps more like a great big toy as you lie on your back in the grass on a summer's day with a friend - searching for clouds that look like things.

As I write, the sky outside my window is a contrast. The top of the Pentland Hills is cloaked in a heavy mist, a wall of dark and heavy rain-cloud (Nimbostratus) rests like a thick curtain behind the Braid Hills. The wind is high and strong. Yet the sun shines bright and bold - beaming in from the West. The rain may yet pass over and shed itself further North. Watching the clouds whip by brings excitement, hearing the wind whistle down the chimney and shake the windows brings fear. A desire to be curled up in bed, warm and safe with a hot drink.

Used as an device by both visual artists and writers, we project our own human emotions onto the ever-changing sky. The mention of what is happening up above, or simply taking the time to look upwards, can chime with or change our whole mood.

In the UK, we are great beneficiaries of the Gulf Stream for our mild winters (and even milder summers!) but are ever at the whim of the Jet Stream. That great weather front looping back and forth across the Northern Hemisphere - deciding if we shall be shaking at the mercy of Arctic Winds slicing across from Siberia or basking in Mediterranean Spring-heat. In Scotland especially, there are endless days where the world above us is only cloud from horizon to horizon and so, in the philosophy of  The Cloud Appreciation Society I strive to love them. And I would recommend a visit to the Cloud Appreciation Website for some meteorological information and impressive cloud information formations from around the world.

As for clouds in art, the first clouds I think of are those of John Constable (Tate Page) and J.M.W. Turner. Vast, immovable, emotional beasts set forever in oils. In some paintings acting simply as a backdrop, and within others - the whole story.

 The second artistic renderings of clouds I think of are the kind you see on the weather report every night: that graphic Cumulus shape. I have referenced it many times in my own work, most recently in The Sadness I Carry Everywhere. This Graphic is so pleasing and simple to draw with it's gentle curving mounds and so immediately recognisable - the mark of a very successful design.

More recently I have discovered the work of Leandro Erlich: Single Cloud Collection and Berndnaut Smilde: various works. Both artists have taken the form of the cloud and portrayed it in unique way. Erlich seems to have cemented and captured the cloud - packing it up and sealing it - setting it out, dissected, like an old medical lecture for all to see, ponder over and scrutinise. Whereas Smilde has captured a wayward wanderer, picturing the cloud in an unusual and contrasting setting. Now it's here, now it's gone. Captured only in the lens of his camera.

My Clouds are about emotion and intent. (Warning: this may sound slightly over-dramatic) The clouds are the frustrating/captured/caught feelings, representing the artistic spirit trapped and bound in the bureaucratic system. As someone who has spent a lot of time not knowing what to do - but knowing they don't want to do this: the Clouds represent hope, too. Even while I sit in a room with no windows, unable to see any green or nature, faced with endless spreadsheets and ticking clocks, the sky outside is still rolling. And one day I will be out there. The differing colours of ink used represent the varying facets of frustration, feeling and time. Some days are not as bad as others - but some days are the worst you think you will ever experience - the stress coming over you like a tide. But, like the tide, the stress will dissipate again - or you can learn, somehow, to sidestep it. These books are as much a reminder of that as they are a place to put the frustration - a way to let it flow out of me and lock it up.

Compiling my own pen and ink versions of these great sky-beasts into small abstract books was an idea brought about by a few things. Firstly encouraged by the enthusiasm of a close friend who enjoyed the form, secondly my desire to experiment with bookmaking and thirdly my belief that any true artist will continue to create no matter what the tools around them - they just can't help it. So using available materials and not waiting or feeling the pressure of having to have "the right equipment" or "the prettiest paper" these books are drawn in biro, made from scrap paper and glued together using pritt-stick. As rough as the final form is, I like to think of the earliest print presses; revolutionaries hand printing and photocopying; rough-shod zines. Once the message is there – the story of the form can become part of the work.

I posted some of my earliest clouds before the book series on my tumblr here

In other news.. 

I joined Instagram! I have been having great fun with it - capturing little images and sticking them out there for the world to see. Check it out here and of course follow me if you have Instagram too :) I am loving how quick and easy the format is for sharing little glimpses of my day and currently am trying to upload one photo a day.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Thoughts On: Thomas Rodgers 'Home'

 All the images in this post are by the artist Thomas Rodgers creative copyright remains with him. You can see more of his work on his website here:

The Edinburgh College of Art (now subsumed into the behemoth that is The University of Edinburgh) is right round the corner from my day job so The Masters Degree Show which ran from 15th to 22nd August was a great opportunity to inject a bit of culture and inspiration into my day. 

Spread out over both the old Main Building and the modern Evolution House, covering many disciplines from glass-making and animation to sculpture and painting, there was a lot of work to get round but I managed to eschew the call of the sun and the festival to visit most of the show over three separate lunchtimes. 

The work which stood out to me the most is by an artist called Thomas Rodgers and is titled Home. In the context of the masters show, Home was set in contrast to two other artists: one abstract Oil Painter and one Sculptor in a large white room in the Main Building. 

As soon as I set my eyes upon the first of the images, I was immediately drawn to them. Each image itself, the focus and composition exactingly chosen, poised and balancing delicately in-between light and dark with their soft, sensual textures whispering gently in your ear speak of moments quiet and private. The photographs were so perfect, so finely tuned, I felt like I was no longer looking through my own eyes, but the eyes of the artist. And really, really seeing what he was seeing. Less concerned with depicting something literally and seemingly more about the shape, light and abstraction, Rodger's photographs say it all, without having to say anything at all. 

The artist himself was not at the exhibition or I would have grilled him on the exact details of his process, but one of the invigilators said he worked on film. Which, on examining the end product is easily deducible from the tangible viscerality of the photographs. You just can't replicate that digitally. Framed in rough mount-board and simple black wood behind glass with a further selection exquisitely printed onto high quality A2 sheets in an open box on a plinth, the presentation reflected a rougher side to the process of working on film. His work chimed strongly with me and what I have been pursuing in my own abstract photography - some of which is available to view on my tumblr here.

On reading Rodger's explanation and reasoning behind this project, found on his website, I can start to see why I was so deeply touched by this work. The glimpses of life that he is portraying are not necessarily linked in obvious fact to anyone in particular - in the way that an obnoxious Instagram or Facebook image says: look what I am doing/how great my life is. These are small, every day cut-outs of scenes which we all encounter on a day-by-day basis: a table-lamp, a mirror, a pile of papers on a desk, an abandoned mug of cold tea, a pattern of light on the floor.. A sense of home as only you, who live in your home, that space which is truly yours, taking the time in it's quietest most intimate moments, see it. The house's littlest hidden corners and pockets, the way the moods subtly change depending on the casting of the shadows which shift through the day. 

As someone who has lived many different houses and flats in my life, I never fully feel like I have inhabited a space or that it is truly home until I have sat in every corner, seen every angle a room has to offer, shifted the furniture several times, even slept in the lounge room. I like to see my home at every hour of the day, see every small inch for itself. Sometimes I like to remind myself of the smallest corners of places I have lived. This is especially true of the house I grew up in, where I would spend hours admiring the way that the rising sun, slipping over the extension would throw such vibrant orange-golden triangles of powerful light onto the wall next to the window in my bedroom. Or the way that the North-facing front rooms of the house never saw direct sunlight, and so stayed forever in this pale-grey cloak, the passing of time and daylight a distant thing. I think of the ignored spaces that perhaps only I took the time to sit and stare at, hour after hour marking the changes. How many times, and how long would I lie upon the couch tracing the cracks in the ceiling, thinking of the collected dust in the cornicing, wondering about who lived in the house before me, and who would come after. A towel is thrown here, an open book or magazine left there. Who is here except you to witness these myriads of composition?

Coming as I do from studying design based subjects I am often struck by how differently I feel when viewing fine art in comparison to the discipline I finally chose to study: Illustration. Often when I go to view an Illustrator's work though, it doesn't quite chime with me the way that I feel it ought to. I look around and I wonder why I can't see the kind of work that I want to make, I don't see the images that I want to see (of course, it is because I should be making them myself!). But purer art forms have always made more sense to me and moved me in a more profound way to my chosen discipline. Now more than ever I am determined to find a way to bridge that line between design and art, to cosy myself up into the fine art and image-based side of Illustration and thankfully I am finding more and more to inspire me along the way. 

Seeing Rodger's work galvanises my dedication to these little spaces as I wander around the home I live in now, seeing the fantastic sunlit beams which throw themselves upon the floor of our South-facing living room, the beauty of the patterns created by the old glass windows on the wall of the kitchen or the accidental Camera Obscura in my room. Some of them I have begun to capture already and seeing an artist who has focused himself on these corners and produced such stunning, sensual works inspires me to continue pursuing this line of exploration.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Thoughts On: The Harmonium Project

All still photography in this article taken by Kat Zgierska and used with kind permission

On the 7th of August the Edinburgh International Festival 2015 opened with a spectacular light show projected on the outside of The Usher Hall

A master-stroke of creativity, and a unique integration of Art, Music and Science, The Harmonium Project brought 59 ProductionsEdinburgh University Design and Infomatics and The Choral Union together to light up one of the city's most iconic landmarks. The visually arresting show was inspired by the physical experience of singing and was set to John Adams' choral work "Harmonium", featuring the poetry of John Donne and Emily Dickinson. The music, a collaboration between the RSNO and The Choral Union, was pre-recorded and played from giant speakers arranged around the audience area. The projection itself was broadcast from the fifth floor of The Sheraton Hotel, located in Festival Square directly opposite the hall with additional lights from the top lip of The Usher Hall coming into play later on. Richard Slaney, the Creative Director of 59 Productions, has written about the process of creating of the collaboration in his own words here 

At 9.30pm darkness had almost fallen and crowds were already gathering in the usually deserted Festival Square in front of the Sheraton Hotel. The first of the barriers were up and officious yellow-bibbed workers herded people left and right. We walked past this scene at first, in search of a much-needed gin, bumping into friends as we went- the atmosphere buzzing and electric.

At 10pmgalvanised by the endless stream of people walking towards The Usher Hall we rushed out of a nearby pub as the barriers went up on Lothian Road, closing it off to traffic. From the edges of the crowd we ducked our way into the centre, seeking out the coveted "best spot". From the windows of office buildings high above us people craned out, blessing their luck, no doubt, at the good location of their workplace. Around us on the ground the full gamut of society from schemies to stoners, Morningside Ladies to Chinese Students pressed in, all looking up, all waiting.

At 10.10pm after the last of the fireworks from the castle petered out - and to many cheers- the floodlights snapped off.The music began as a hush and the first white lines sprang up as if from the very crevices of the 101 year old building itself, tracing the architectural detail and outline of The Usher Hall before dissolving into pulsing heartbeats and brain waves, racing across the inanimate stone. Surrounded by a crowd of excited revellers, I felt a swell of great pride on being part of this moment, connected to all others in the crowd through shared experience. From there on in, over the next 35 minutes the crowd was swept along, enthralled and captivated. The projections and lights built a level and dimension into the music that drew tears, gasps of wonder and cries of delight. 

The inspiration for the piece was the effect that singing has on the brain and body and integrated data collated by Edinburgh University's Design and Infomatics Centre, collected from The Choral Union members as they sang. The intention: to produce a visual representation of what goes on within the body when singing. At points I found the visuals themselves were rather too linear and digitally based for my usual tastes however given the starting point, and scale of the projection, no other obvious workaround comes immediately to my mind. I did enjoy the liberal use of geometric shapes  (how could I not), but perhaps not so much the repeated use of seemingly random lines. 

However there is no escaping the fact that the work was powerful.The singers had even been recorded in infra-red, merging them into the production and at several points their eyeless heads would loom out of the facade of hall like ghosts as they sang. This was an especially chilling effect, given The Usher Hall's spooky reputation.

Other highlights included moving depictions of the mapped cosmos, golden bars of wheat rippling and swaying, the shooting of great beams of light from the top of The Usher Hall into the sky like the batman signal, the sun rising on Usher Hall's West-facing facade and the magic moment The Usher Hall was projected onto itself, gleaming and shining- a beacon.

My favourite moment though, came as beams of light spread out suddenly from the roof of the Grand Circle, reaching over us in a great white array: I looked upward towards the heavens from the middle of the crowd, and could see, blinking through those bars of artificial light: the real stars in the real sky.

At the close of the show, as the assembled ruptured with an explosion of claps and cheers, I was brought back to the same feeling I had standing there at the very beginning. I had been thinking about us as a city, as a whole, a collective. We who pass each other day in and day out, bent over on our own way, focussed inwards on our own life - united in this moment, for this experience. We had all been through this majestic moment together.

That was what I loved the most about Friday night: the fact that the EIF brought this moment to us. This ambitious free event, an opportunity for engagement with the Arts that was open to every level of society and interest. And as last week turned into this, the conversations I have had with other attendees, people I don't know well, reminiscing, a particular gleam in their eye at the memory. As we embark on three weeks of sparkling insanity and chaos, an estimated 1.5 million people descending on our tiny city, this felt like a truly a fitting lighting of the fuse. 

I hope that Friday night was the beginning of a brand new milestone for us Edinburgh folk. We have, cemented in the very stones of the city, one tradition that marks the end of the International Festival. Every year fireworks spectacular above the castle with accompanying music played by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra from the Princes Street Bandstand, broadcast on Forth One. The people of Edinburgh respond by gathering atop hills and rooftops (Thermos/bottle of wine in one hand - wind up radio in the other) to watch. In this hilliest of cities we plan weeks, if not months, ahead as to which location we should watch it from. Some folks have their favourite spots year after year, some go to the ticketed event in Princes Street Gardens. Others, like me, have watched from several different vantage points over the years. Marking time, year on year in, reminiscing the last location you were, whose hand you were holding, who's tears you were mopping up. A unique milestone in the Edinburgh calendar.

So here's hoping that before it all gets a little too crazy, a little too Bacchanalian, us residents can have a moment to just gather together, watch something beautiful, and remember why we all live here in the first place.


Official video by EIF embedded from YouTube

Further photography can be found on The Guardian here

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Thoughts On: GSA "The Phoenix Exhibition"

Last year when news broke that The Mackintosh Building was on fire the shock seemed to deeply affect anyone and everyone who has even the vaguest passing interest in Art and Design or with the city of Glasgow and it's heritage to the core.

I had never actually been into the Mackintosh Building myself as having grown up on the West Coast of Scotland (30-odd miles South of Glasgow) the name and designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh were so prevalent in my youth, to the point of over-saturation, that I couldn't appreciate the man or his work for many years. It wasn't, in fact, until around four years ago when visiting the Kelvingrove Art Museum (which has a sizeable collection devoted to Mackintosh) that I slowly began to grasp why he is loved by so many people. But the library he designed was, at that point still, something I simply took for granted as part of the heritage and history of design and creativity in my home country. I had never honestly given the building a great deal of thought until suddenly it was potentially no longer going to be there any more. 

Here is a BBC News article from 2014 for a little bit of context and background on the fire

Restoration work is now under way and The Guardian recently published a good article in their design blog about it:

Today though I am writing not about the loss of the library building but of the work that the loss catalysed. Work produced by the people most affected by the fire, the fourth year students of Glasgow School of Art who lost their degree show pieces. Those pieces of work which ostensibly were what they had been working towards their whole lives up to that point. The Phoenix Bursary was born out of the ashes of fire and loss and this exhibition is the culmination of the six months that the students either spent together in a purpose built studio in Glasgow called The Whiskey Bond or in far flung reaches of the globe in host institutions.

Delve in deeper to the story via The Phoenix Bursary's own blogspot here:

For the short and uninitiated, here follows nine of my favourite works from The Phoenix Bursary Exhibition which ran from the 25th July to the 2nd of August 2015.

The work which follows is not my own and copyright remains with the artists.

Frank McElhinney

Freya Stockford

Gillian Sharpe

Matthew Bainbridge

 Hannah Blackwell

Pricilia Kheng

 Special Mention - I couldn't work out who this piece was by - but it's great!

Friday, 31 July 2015

Thoughts On: Alex Pritchard

The Fruitmarket Gallery host an Artists' Books weekend every February which I highly recommend you to check out when it next rolls around.

For now I am going to spill out some thoughts on an Book Binder & Illustrator that I found at the fair back in February 2014.

This artist's name is Alex Pritchard. You can read about him in his own words here:

Alex uses his work to describe scientific theory and help people visualise data, ideas and big numbers. I am particularly attracted to his work as I love science (mainly physics and astronomy) but I do feel that my dyslexia holds me back from fully conceiving ideas when they are presented purely in mathematical or word-based forms.

Coming across Alex's work at the Book Fair was very exciting for me. He had a book at the time for sale (I wish I had bought it now!) which consisted of a concertina of cards, each card representing a planet, with a visual depiction of the planet (to scale) and a measurement worked out (to scale) using the viewer as "the sun". I got very worked up at the idea that you could then take this book, stand in a field and place the cards at the stated distance away from you and literally have created an ad-hoc (non-operational) Orrery.

Having no money to purchase the book my heart craved I picked up one of his business cards (almost equally as exciting) and had the most incredible fun for a couple of months using it to foist scientific facts about the universe on people.

See his business card an infographic here (the image that follows is not my work and copyright belongs to Alex Pritchard **):

This is an infographic depicting the make-up of the universe and (to the best of my memory) is...

Large Grey: Dark Energy
Smaller Grey: Dark Matter
Red: Hydrogen
Orange: Helium
Yellow: Stars (Photons, Light)
Green: Physical/Solid Matter (Planets, Asteroids)

If you like this... Upon producing Pritchard's card to a good friend yesterday she squealed with delight and told me about David McCandless' Book "Information is Beautiful" which she is reading currently. Ever a fan of collecting pretty books and facts to put everything in perspective I have been on line to his website today to have a bit of a dig around, and suggest you check it out too: 

Thursday, 30 July 2015


You will not know this but for the past six months I have been taking photographs of my feet.

This started as I embarked on a short course in Artists' Books in January of this year. The Tutor asked us to do something every day for the duration of the course, as a small exercise to have us thinking about repetition and how this could translate into a book.

At this time I was struggling within the whirlwind of a very intense and depressing job. Every day I would wake in blackness, push myself towards consciousness and fall into a bus. As dawn was breaking I would be hurtling towards the farthest fringe of civilisation, my life in hiatus, waiting for the right time to arrive. I lived out 8.30am to 5pm suspended in a cocoon of wax, desperate for the day to finish so I could stumble back onto the same bus, the one that would take me home again. Home, where I would collapse and with each outward breath shrink further and further away from the final dying hours of the day.

Month upon month I shuttled.

Back and forth.
Forth and Back.

To and Fro.

A heavily weighted pendulum swinging and swinging but never catching.

This was it, this was life, the routine and repetition - so this had to be captured. I began to take pictures of my journey, the sky and my surroundings.

I quickly realised that I would need more in order to sustain the project and so I turned to my feet. In what has become a reverse selfie, my new routine and the antithesis of a Kim Kardashian moment. Un-glamarous "hashtag no filter".

Without context or explanation, however, what will this endless string of photographs of my own two feet become?

Currently I am approaching this project in a similar way to Everywhere I Park My Bike which was a short-lived project made in August 2009 wherein I photographed every place I parked my bicycle. The aim was to produce an on-line string of boring and pointless documentary photographs to parody people's blogs detailing their exciting skiing or hiking adventures, travels, etc. It was incredibly hard not to try and photograph the bicycle in an interesting way and after ten days I had bored even myself with it.

Now, however.. (in terms at least of feet) I have recruited a point of contrast and comparison in the form of my sister. For thirty days we will each photograph our feet and as a further point -to flip the project upside down and bring new perspective- we are also simultaneously taking photographs of what is above us, be it sky or ceiling.

The project is named Sisters: To and Fro. For now you will find it presented in a new blog here:

Monday, 20 July 2015

Thoughts on: Amy Mae's "Hard.Back"

Two months ago I took myself down to a local hip festival we have running here in Edinburgh every so often called the Hidden Door Festival. Hidden Door is a volunteer run and led festival of local artists, musicians and performers who take over disused spaces and turn them into something beautiful/dirty just for a little while.

This year the festival was held in the old traffic department buildings for the municipal authority (otherwise known as City of Edinburgh Council).

The festival was busy, buzzing and exciting - there were some moments of great sunshine and good vibes in the courtyard space, some stalls full of tasty food, music, theatre.. but what I was there for was the art.

I wanted to see what was new and happening in my city. Working for 'the moolah' as much as I do at the moment I barely have the opportunity to work on my own projects, let alone get out there and see what is going on - so having the Hidden Door barely five minutes down the road from my desk was an opportunity far to good to miss!

That is how I came across Amy Mae's project: Hard.Back. Burrowed away within the sprawling abandoned office spaces and garages she spent the duration of the festival photographing people's backs (both naked and not) and developing the prints in an improvised cupboard-sized dark room.

The set up was simple, involving a darkened room - the daylight blocked out out by an old beige vertical blind, drawn tightly shut. On an old desk sat a book rapidly filling with the prints she was creating and there: straight ahead, three and a half rows of misty photos.. with plenty pre-marked gaps for more.

Her work stood out to me at once as bold and ambitious, picking up and taking forward the mantle of the great nudist painters before her, squeezing it through a the semi-modernist medium of photography, pulling it back from the digital realm unto which it has lately fled and coming out, at the end, with something completely of her own.

If it is right that it is not necessarily the subject of your art which is the most important, but the methodology and the idea - then I would say that is what caught my attention. Any other artist using the space even with the same intent would not have produced the same effect, the same atmosphere, the same results. So much of what I think made the space and idea a success in my eyes was Amy's approach to her subjects, her passion for her work, her open-ness about her work, her honesty and friendliness.

If at first when you walked into the abandoned office the set-up seemed underground, dodgy, even a bit too Terry Richardson-esque, as soon as you met Amy you were completely put at ease. By the end of the week long festival her enthusiasm for the project had pulled a vast array of people through the narrow entrance-way into the slightly disconcerting, but at once completely normalised action, of taking your clothes off for a complete stranger.

I look forward to seeing how she takes the project forward as I understand she is looking to publish a one-off special 'zine using the work she created.