WORKING WITH THE BLACK ARTS

A wonderful few days spent again as the BLACK ARTS with organised residential workshops managed by Adrian Beasley. The workshops featured tutors Adrian with digital capture, editing and printing, Stephen Raff taking clients through the early wet collodian photographic process and myself painting compositions with clients using the unique Bideford Black pigment. Our clients stayed at the Seagate Hotel in Appledore, North Devon and were taken to venues each day. I had the great pleasure of being based at the scenic Northam Visitor’s Centre beside the beach at Westward Ho pictured above.

Below are pictures of some of our clients work produced over three days involving group discussions. Each evening a different venue was chosen where we chatted informally about our day’s progress over meals at Belluno in Bideford, The Beaver in Appledore and Moran’s Restaurant in Westward Ho. On the final evening we all got together to look at the final work produced which included ‘The Big Reveal’ where everyone could see each other’s compositions. As you can see from the pictures superb work had been produced and the fabulous Indian banquet cooked by Clea, Adrian’s wife, ended the three day course superbly.

PIGMENTS FROM ROCK TO BLACK

I’ve spent an interesting afternoon looking through the rock strata at Fremington Quay. I’ve collected Bideford Black from Greencliff at Abbotsham and used the blackish colour called Poor Man’s Coal from here at Fremington too. A renowned pigment artist called Peter Ward mentions that there are other distinct colours to collect here too, namely, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, White Clay and Grey. On inspection these pigments are quite evident here so after collecting some samples I will prepare them for future painting projects. Below is a link to an interesting article by Peter Ward.

LESSON PREPERATIONS

An afternoon of running through lesson ideas in the use of Bideford Black and paint application techniques with Adrian Beasley. Adrian used assorted brushes, rags, scalpels and spattering techniques to produce these two wonderful images of the boardwalk at Crow Point. The subject is a particular favourite of mine but in a few weeks with other students other ideas and compositions will be explored with regard to Westward Ho, pebbles and beachscapes in both black and white photography and paint.

GREENCLIFF.

Another Biddie Black this time of Greencliff near Abbotsham in North Devon, painted on thick cartridge paper 700 x 260mm. and above is a video of removing the tape along with some of my guitar music to keep it company.
It is at Greencliff where I obtain my black pigment after walking down the winding coast path, past the old lime kiln and scrambling over the pebble ridge. On this particular day it was quite warm so I spent a lot of time here sketching and taking photos. I was asked by someone on the beach, was I digging for Bideford Black as they had read about it? I confirmed their suspicion and showed them where it was collected along with my black hands as evidence. I love this part of the coastline as it’s very secluded and quite a suntrap, ideal for evening BBQs. Someone before me had dug out some pigment and left the cliff in quite a state with a gaping hole this I made good with more mud and pebbles. You know what they say, ‘Love the beach leave no trace!’ and that includes litter.

GREENCLIFF AND BIDEFORD BLACK.

A trip out to Abbotsham to visit Greencliff and restock up on some Bideford Black pigment. What a marvellous day it turned out to be as the weather was forecast to be rather grey. It was an easy walk down to the Lime Kiln and then down onto the pebbly beach. There were a few picnicking couples enjoying the solitude and breath taking views along the North Devon Coast. I found the black seam and removed some of the dark claylike material, someone had been there before and left a hole in the cliff, this I made good with some rocks and clay to prevent any more erosion or collapse. After washing my hands I walked up and down the beach sketching and taking some pictures for further paintings, I then sat and admired the view in the Spring sunshine!

In search of the elusive Bideford Black Pigment otherwise known as Biddiblack.  Running alongside seams of anthracite across North Devon is a black clay-like material that was mined for 200 years in Bideford for its uses as a strong black pigment. The unique ‘Mineral Black’, or ‘Biddiblack’ as it was known, was commercially produced for applications in the boat building industry, for colouring rubber products, for camouflage on tanks in WWII and was even bought by Max Factor for the production of mascara. The mines were closed in 1968 when the production of cheaper oil-based blacks and the depletion of the seam made the operation financially unviable, but many locals still remember the ‘Paint Mines’ and have tales to tell of using the paint or going into the now defunct mine shafts.  Today it’s revered by artists who love it’s inky black non reflective properties.  It first has to be dried, ground and then mixed with a medium such as PVA or Gum Arabic.  Looking forward to making my own now and seeing what images I can produce.  

Most of the information above was from a very informative website called The story of Bideford Black.  

http://bidefordblack.blogspot.com/p/history.html

Below is the view looking back towards Abbotsham Cliffs and Westward Ho. In the far distance you can just make out Saunton Sands Hotel on the horizon.

THE PATH BESIDE THE MARSH.

At the end of the beach boardwalk heading towards the Crow Point Carpark there is a a little pond of brackish water on the left. It is here where the brightly coloured damsel and dragon flies hover during the warm spring and summer. With this painting I’m trying to capture that Tulgey Wood sense of dark foreboding. I’ve also made a dark brushstroke across the sky to hint at a starling murmuration. This composition is in Bideford Black on thick cartridge paper, with some scraping and pigment removal.

When using this medium I often apply the paint using twigs, rags and stiff brushes with which to spatter fine specks. I also use scalpel blades, course and fine sandpapers and cotton buds to soften and remove pigment, in fact anything to create depth and texture to the composition. It helps to have a strong resilient paper with which to do so.

BLACK ARTS.

The return of BLACK ARTS, a project I’m involved in with artists Adrian Beasley and Stephen Raff.  We create our images in black and white using Photography, the Wet Collodian process and use of Bideford Black pigment, hence the name BLACK ARTS.  We aim to undertake this three day residential experience later this year.  Below is a link to the webpage with more information to follow!

https://www.black-arts.art/

Below is a link of our first collaboration in 2019 on the closing night of The White Moose Gallery.
https://albrownartist.com/2019/11/02/last-night/

Roborough Hill.

I’ve finally mounted this Bideford Black painting of Roborough Hill in Barnstaple, North Devon 40 x 25″ on thick cartridge paper. Throughout the pandemic and various lockdowns I’ve found this area of Roborough to have been a great escape from all that mayhem. To look out over North Devon from this wonderful highpoint is a view to behold. I think this painting would be certainly a talking or focal point to any room! Al