Willow sculpture workshop

I started my day eating yoghurt with blueberries collected from the blueberry bush in my garden, which was a wonderful gift from my sister a few years ago.  I sat at my little table next to the bush, so when the yoghurt ran low on berries, I simply reached out to pick a few more, washed by last night’s rain.  The blueberries taste so much better than supermarket ones!  And by the end of the day, my garden had a new decoration…

I attended a local workshop, organised by A Forgotten Landscape, using willow withies to create plant supports and sculptures.  The plant supports were inspired by putchers, funnel shaped baskets which were used to catch salmon in the Severn since Medieval times.  These were grouped together to form a fishing weir, attached to poles erected in the river.  I see the remains of these weirs at low tide during my regular walks along the seafront, so it was a great link between my favourite landscape and my creative practices.

I’ve never tried willow weaving before.  It turned out to be one of those crafts that are easy to learn but difficult to master.  After a short introduction to the basic techniques, I set off with Rachel to create a plant support.

After lunch, I then worked on my own on another plant support, while admiring the animals and freeform sculptures that some of the other participants were creating.  This one isn’t quite finished yet, but we were able to take home an armful of willow withies to continue our creations.

Willow sculpture workshop

We were incredibly lucky with the weather and were able to work all day outside on the playing field.  There was something very satisfying about working outside, kneeling on damp grass but getting up regularly to fetch another batch of willow withies that were soaking in a makeshift bath in the village hall changing rooms.

It was great to be able to spend a day chatting with other creative people and working with natural materials to create something that will decorate my garden for years to come.  I learned new skills and gained a lot of inspiration for possible future projects.  Lynette’s quick introduction to basket weaving, using Rebecca’s beautiful basket as an example, inspired me to look out for opportunities to learn how to make my own basket.  I’ve found a great tutorial here, which I might have a go at.

Chatting to Deborah Aguirre Jones, who is the artist in residence for A Forgotten Landscape, I also found out about an interesting project that she is doing, Explain / Yourself, which she describes as a two-way conversation between people and a place.  I’m going to email her to get in touch about taking a walk with her to contribute to her collection of conversations with local residents.

Following one of today’s trails of inspiration led me to think about creating a salmon from the material that had been used to trap them.  I found a video tutorial for a willow fish, but my attempts at creating a kink just ended up with several broken withies, possibly because I hadn’t soaked them for long enough.  However, that ‘failure’ led me to think about other alternatives and I tried using two withies to create the fish outline and then wool to create the body, using the same figure-of-eight technique that was shown in the video.  It became difficult to keep the willow bent outwards enough, so I have tried adding ‘bones’ made from the broken bits of willow to create the shape I want.  The picture below shows the beginnings of my experimental ‘prototype’, which may or may not lead to a more polished piece over the next few weeks.

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