A Forest of Glass
North Lands Creative Glass and The Borgie Forest Cabin Project bring artists out of the studio, into the North Highland countryside to work in experimental glass engraving techniques inspired by the unique landscape.
The Forest Four have finished their residency at the Borgie Forest cabin with a sense of achievement and unanimous belief in the value of the project. During the 8 week residency the artists have expanded their practice, technically and conceptually, they are focused on the future and keen to develop the work they started in the forest.
Coming back to the ‘modern world’ has been an adjustment but they’re back with a keenness of perspective and sharpened instincts, their senses honed by profound experience. They will return, and the Forest of Glass will never leave them.
The Forest Four before…
back at North Lands Creative Glass Studio in Lybster.
It’s an ending of sorts for the artists, but we’re not quite finished here yet…
Photo credit: David Moss.
Yesterday Wil and Heather were interviewed live on BBC Scotland’s The Culture Studio with Janice Forsyth. They talked about their residency and what the experience has meant to them. Their residency officially finishes today but we’re sure it’s not the last we’ll see of them and it’s not the last we’ll post about them either.
If you missed the interview you can catch it here for the next 6 days.
In this post, as we near the end of this residency, we wanted to ask the people who have been involved in the project but who are (mostly) ‘out of the woods’ for their take on it, the intentions and expectations and what the lasting impact might be.
Meg Telfer, Borgie Forest Cabin Project:
‘When we explored the possibility of refurbishing the cabin and were successful in our funding bid (funding from NESTA – National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) one of our visions for our “magical” – this word was in and out of our descriptions of the cabin like a yoyo, but yes it is magical, so in it stayed – building was that it be used to encourage creativity.
The Forest of Glass residency in partnership with North Lands Creative Glass is a dream come true.
The cabin is home and studio space, in the neighbouring Forestry Commission Scotland Cabin, to four young artists, three who work in glass and one who never has. Three from the UK and one from east coast USA.
They settled in very quickly, but were not so quick to get used to the silence and the darkness at night. One way they have found of passing dark evenings and nights is to wrap up take out chairs and stargaze, ever hoping for the Northern Lights to dance across the heavens. They haven’t, but meteor showers have.
They have all been taken out of their comfort zone and on the whole seem to be relishing the experience.’
Denis Mann, Engraver and North Lands Creative Glass artist mentor:
‘Speaking at the very first master class at North Lands Bertil (Vallien) said we were ‘pioneers’; this residency was truly ground breaking, a real quantum leap!
I think the best comment came from the residents this afternoon: simply; “We will never forget this”’
Michael Bullen, North Lands Creative Glass Studio Manager:
‘The phrase “making marks on glass,” is so simple and so short, the reality of giving four artists the ability to do this, in a remote forest in the highlands of Scotland some 70 miles distant from the main studio was a little more complex.
But the studio was set up, the marks have been made and the possibilities engendered by this residency both for the artists and for North Lands Creative Glass are endless.’
Patricia Niemann, North Lands Creative Glass artist mentor for the project:
David Moss, multimedia artist, A Forest of Glass project photographer and filmmaker:
‘I’ve followed the artists to their favourite locations in the forest and beyond; tramping through swamps, jumping over river channels, enduring the chill breeze off the Ben Loyal mountain range. I’ve been buffeted by the bracing North Atlantic winds on the Torrisdale cliffs, I’ve clambered through dense undergrowth in search of the perfect shot, discovered the miniature worlds that exist in the microcosmos of the forest, and have seen the most glorious expansive vistas of the unique North Sutherland coastal region.
The artists are a very talented and committed group, their passion for their work is contagious and my involvement as documenter of their activity has been very rewarding. They are all very different artists whose skills and interests balance and contrast to create a solid critical environment.
Wil is seeking the stories in the sacred objects of cyclical time, the discarded tools of historic productivity. Heather is determined to tame the elements to make delicate work in physically demanding locations. Laura is forensically examining the worlds within worlds and discovering the glamours of the decaying forest. Madeline is communicating with the place, becoming one with the forest and the river and recording the transmissions as geomantic forms on paper. The art-making is just a part of a process of creative development. The totality of their experience has been, in my view, an environmental epiphany. If making art is about losing the self, then where best to realise that process than in a place where the artistic self is perpetually escaping from all expectation.’
Lorna O’Brien, Innovation & Business Development Director, North Lands Creative Glass:
‘A Forest of Glass was devised as an experimental residency. At North Lands we have a great track record of glass and mixed-media residencies and we’re always looking to develop new ideas and try out new models. We see residencies as offering that essential time for artists to immerse themselves in their practice but to do it in a new and inspirational environment makes for life and art-changing experiences. This project has surpassed our expectations.
The partnership with the Borgie Forest Cabin Project and the support of Creative Futures have given us the chance to be adventurous and ambitious with this project, to take artists out of the studio environment and challenge them on many levels. In our residencies we bring together four artists to live and work together for eight weeks, in this case in very close quarters and in a remote and isolated location. The residents have really risen to and embraced the challenge and I think they will feel the influence of this experience for a long time to come. We have also learned a lot that will help to shape our future programmes.
Thanks to everyone who’s been following the adventures of the Forest Four, I’ve really enjoyed doing this blog on behalf of the residents (as their internet access has been next to none), it’s been great to get such a positive response to it and the whole project. The residency is not quite over yet, and we will carry on gathering photos and words from the artists to share with you.’
Photo credit: David Moss
The Forest Four have passed the halfway point of their residency and the last weeks will pass all too quickly. They are each finding their own particular points of inspiration as well as challenges along the way.
‘I have just finished engraving outside for the first time. It’s quite a challenge wheeling a generator and engraving lathe to the shore’s edge in the howling wind and sea spray, but I managed it!
Its 5°C outside, my hands are frozen from using sea water to lubricate my diamond wheels, I’m sat on a hot water bottle but I really enjoyed the experience of having my workshop outside for a few hours, this is totally out of my comfort zone of a warm studio with hot tea and biscuits on tap. Engraving in this way is exciting and definitely unique.
Usually I take time over my engraving work considering every mark I produce on the glass, but engraving outside is a whole new ball game, time is of essence because of the cold, and ever changing weather cycles. This way of working has opened a whole new world of producing work which I find particularly exciting and so far rewarding.’
‘The woods are full of gnarled old tree stumps and branches of rotting wood which are the centres of mini ecosystems. I’ve become quite fascinated with this life on the side of decay, the mushrooms and fungi which are found here and the creatures which feed off them.
The main thing for me, at the moment is still drawing. I have done some small experiments in glass but have mostly been gathering visual information. The best thing that I have noticed in the last week is that my sketchbook use has changed. I’ve moved from being very self-conscious in what I draw or write (always unable to get away from the idea of an audience) to having an actual working sketchbook where I am figuring things out, experimenting and really using it as an investigative tool for myself.
There have been a few teething problems, some equipment not working, and the long, very dark nights can occasionally be a bit oppressive, but I am really enjoying being here. For every evening marred by cabin fever, there is another where we watch shooting stars in the car park or go for night walks through the woods. Or, as is more often the case, head down to the Borgie Forest Lodge for a pint.’
‘The past two weeks have allowed me to gain a small amount of comfort with the equipment and processes involved with engraving. This past week I have been focusing mostly on the lathe and wheels, experimenting with them in and outside of the studio. My first trip out to engrave on location was met with an intensely beautiful view of the Torrisdale bay.
Working out in the elements was exciting and of course added new challenges to the process, with the stiff cold wind coming over our shoulders we kept our hands warm with a thermos of tea and hot water-bottles, however the trip was truly inspiring and I am excited to see what will feed into my work next.’
‘Inspired by the arrival of the printmaking equipment, I’ve finally overcome my terror of wheel engraving to create some intaglio plates. After some unsuccessful attempts at lo-tec printing onto paper I managed to get some great results by inking up the plate and then casting it in plaster to transfer the print to the plaster cast – something I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. Glass painting has been shaping up too, although after some eventful experiments I’ve decided that it’s too toxic for the outdoors; the lead based paints tend to take off one way or another in the wind and rain, although I did get some interesting results that would have never happened in a controlled environment.
My aim for this residency was to push my work in new directions, and this has been happening far beyond my expectations. There is so much to be gathered from the place that the problem is to keep up with and respond to everything; there is little temptation to recycle old ideas. Aside from the rich imagery of the physical landscape; the whole experience of this residency is so eccentric and surreal that I find myself perceiving things in new detail and attaching new meanings to the happenings of the place. Events that at another time would be ordinary become the way in to a world of fantastic happenings of which we catch occasional glimpses, dragged up on the bank of the river or just there as a hint of something uncanny in the behaviour of the land.
For the first time I have the freedom of making work without the necessity of an end result, and this in itself is allowing new things to surface. I’m trying to let go of the pressure to make good work and let the residency take its own direction, just to see where it goes.’
Photo credit: David Moss
Information from the Forestry Commission site:
‘Borgie was one of the Forestry Commission’s original plantings in 1920. All but 20 hectares of this forest was destroyed by fire in 1942. Scots pine and spruce, which survived, are now some of the tallest trees in Sutherland, at over 100 feet tall.
The walk runs along the edge of the River Borgie, one of Scotland’s most famous salmon rivers. There are lovely views up the river towards the centre of the forest -especially so in spring when the gorse is in flower.
Near the entrance to the forest lies A’chraobh. The spiral feature created using native trees and carved local stone was designed and created by the local community.
Many of the trees in this forest are being felled to produce quality timber. The forest will be replanted with more broad leaved native trees.’
Photo credit: David Moss
The Forest Four landed at the Borgie Forest Cabin on Friday 25th. The weather has been kind to them so far with bright sunny spells and clear starry nights.
Their impressions of their new surroundings:
‘I had no idea of what to expect as we loaded up a van Friday morning and left Lybster for the Borgie Forest. We arrived around lunch time and after a quick tour of the cabin and the equipment, we were left to own devices.
While the forest and the river are both tranquil and beautiful, I have been continually amazed by the coast line here. Our first trip to Skerray Harbor and I knew I had found a place that I would always remember. Yesterday I packed a bag and walked from the mouth of the Borgie River around Torrisdale bay and followed the coast line back to Skerray Harbor. This hike has proven to be one of the most awe inspiring afternoons of my life.
I am excited to see what else the landscape has to offer and every day proves to reveal a new incredible aspect of this place. The community has been welcoming and extremely generous with their time, knowledge and supplies. Every morning while we rebuild the wood fire I realize that I have no idea of what I may see or experience that day.’
‘I think I might not be seeing Lybster again for a while – the entire glass workshop seems to be up at the forest for us to use and there’s at least a lifetime’s worth of inspiration here to use it on.’
‘The landscape here is amazing, completely different from Caithness, it’s crazy how much it changes on the hour and a half drive over from Lybster. The beach at Skerray is beautiful, but I’ve been particularly drawn to the forest walks surrounding the cabin, especially the A’Chraobh Spiral Walk which celebrates the Gaelic tree alphabet. I’m feeling very relaxed and inspired and have already drawn more in the last week than I have in the last year.’
‘After a few hours’ drive from Lybster through several dramatic changes of landscape I arrive at Borgie Forest to a wonderful warm log cabin on a rainy October day.
My impressions of the Forest and surrounding areas fill me with so much inspiration and ideas for making new work. Within a few hours I visited Skerray beach, one of many beautiful beaches. I think this will be the starting point for my drawings and gathering research from the rock pools, caves, natural arches and high cliffs which offer so much scope and potential to explore ideas.
My first impression of the workshop Michael has created for us is absolutely unreal, words cannot explain. We have portable lathes which can be wheeled around the countryside to any location. My plan is to take the Merker lathes to Skerray beach and engraving on the black rocks close to the shoreline. I can’t wait to film and document this, a whole world of new ideas and exploring taking these machines wherever I want. What could be better!’
Our four artists arrived safely in Lybster, they have spent the week preparing their materials and themselves.
We asked them for their first impressions…
I have been in Lybster for a few days now and so far it has been a wonderful experience meeting the local people and staff at North Lands. So far meeting engraver Denis Mann has been my highlight, such a sweet man with many years of experience underneath his belt which he is willing to pass on to me and the other residents, it is a true honour for him to be with us.
As from tomorrow I will find myself living and working in a forest, a daunting prospect of having no access to internet, phone, tv or radio, just glass machinery to keep me entertained. It’s exciting but at the same time terrifying!
I have heard the forest and surrounding areas and beaches house spectacular views, which I am looking forward seeing and gathering inspiration for my new works. It’s going to be interesting 8 weeks, one which I think could change my way of thinking and making work.
Being up in Lybster again has been amazing so far, it’s one of my favourite places. It’s been good getting to know the other residents and seeing some familiar faces, and I’m looking forward to heading out to the Borgie forest and getting stuck into some engraving on location. I’m excited about what’s coming next!’
After a busy first week getting to grips with a new medium, I’m looking forward to heading off for Borgie to do some serious drawing and put what I’ve learned into practice. Bring on the wilderness…
This residency represents several unknowns to me both as an artist and as an individual. I have travelled to a new country, I am exploring a new technique and with the introduction of the Borgie Forest, I will be living and working in a very different environment. I have been excited to participate in this residency because I knew it would break me out of my comfort zone and challenge me to expand as an artist.
I could not have been happier to step off the bus at the end of my long journey and be greeted by a fantastic community, welcoming staff and three other excited and hardworking residents. I am unaware of what will come but I am trying to embrace everything that comes my way.
And they headed off today to Borgie Forest.
Our residency, A Forest of Glass, begins on 21 October so we’re busy preparing and looking forward to the arrival of our artists Heather Gillespie, Madeline Mackay, Laura Reid, Wil Sideman.
They’ll be staying and working here – North Lands Creative Glass Studio
and here! This is Borgie Forest Cabin.
Borgie Forest is one of the most northerly forests in the UK. The artists will be working in the landscape (in somewhat cooler weather than the pictures suggest) using engraving tools and techniques and creating their own Highland adventure.