Nature Landscape & Book
Helen Douglas

When I agreed to give this talk, I did not realise how difficult it would be to prepare.
I mean
NATURE LANDSCAPE BOOK how loaded is each of these words?

And what's more, how I realise I am in the middle of them all

That is all three: Nature, Landscape and Book surround me.
They are out there and they are all absolutely within me too.
Inside and out. I Live them.

Rather than speaking in the abstract, I have decided to speak from the book, the place of my making, the place where my expression is made concrete, and where all three Nature Landscape and Book come together.

The first image is from the Grotto sequence in
Real Fiction made with Telfer Stokes and published in 1987. Here there is a convergence of all three. Here from the inside, the interiority of the book,
The outside world is embraced.
From the gutter gathering, the kernel - bowl, the table, the textures, the rough constructive dry stone dyke, the trees are all drawn to the book.
To make concrete this fusion of inside to outside that I found.
This is the narrative. Its expression is found and constructed in the making of the book. It is the Book.
(i.e. it was not scripted beforehand rather one set grew out of the previous one).

The book was subtitled
An Enquiry into the Bookeresque.
An obvious reference to its enquiry into bookness.
But also a playful acknowledgement of Uvedale Price and Payne Knight's theoretical Enquiry into the Picturesque in the late 18th century. Their study of nature and the painterly in nature manifest in landscape painting and architecture was to influence my way of understanding of nature and landscape and underpinned my own optical appreciation for the textures and colour in nature.

It gave me greater consciousness of my fundamental instinctive way of being and looking. I was brought up on a farm and it was my instinct to return to living in the countryside in the Scottish Borders, not as a farmer but as an artist. It is there that I feel at ease and integrated as a human being.

The Hedgehog (foot brush) (as opposed to The Fox Art & Language New York 1975) at the beginning of Chinese Whispers alludes to this integrated way of being and understanding.
It is in the countryside that my being and seeing is Interwoven with nature. And here I allude to weaving, something also inextricably connected with the border landscape: tweed being both a rough woven fabric and the main river that flows through the Border countryside.
(I myself worked for 19 years at the Scottish College of textiles a place that grew out of the Tweed industry. I did a PH D looking into woven fabrics and the developing aesthetic taste for texture).

Textura, the Latin word for the woven web is also the root of the word texture. When I saw the thickets in my gathering for Wild Wood, I was excited and perplexed by them, and wondered how I would ever sort them to the book, and then finally understood within the narrative of Wild Wood, that began emerge, that their intricate interwoven beauty should be sorted and laid to the page like tapestry.

This brings me to my book
WILD WOOD, published in 1999.
This was a book that always needed to be made, I realise with hindsight. I did so in anticipation of the Millennium and with reference to the Carrifran Wildwood project, which was underway within the Yarrow valley.
In making
Wild Wood I wanted to gather up something of the past:
Deuchar Wood
...the small pockets of Wild Woods remaining from the Ancient Ettrick Forest, that are part of my daily life and the landscape at Deuchar....

As I spent my time in these woods I felt I came in connection with my Ancestral forbears who in the 14 and 15th century were keepers of this forest...they were later outlawed

I was also gathering up my own childhood, that is my memories, my inner stories as well as outer: I returned to the wood on the farm where I used to go to:
The Fairy Dean, a place steeped in the presence of Thomas the Rhymer who was said to have been taken there by the Fairy Queen. Importance of enchantment

The book begins with this
filigree intricacy
I devised that the viewer be gradually lured/charmed visually by this intricacy into this Wild Wood in book.
In this way, my inner and outer became fused. Imaginative and real

The narrative is about going in,
I saw these spreads as
very romantic
18th century almost. Engravings, ballet sets
Where, like in the fairy tales, things can turn from:
rosy to menacing
light to dark,
The hags broom whipped into the Storm.
I never saw any of this as in illustration,
It was completely itself
it was simply this:
that I was out with a camera
looking, following, alert to what was out there and to my inner impulse and dreams.

It says much of my understanding of
How it gives me time to be, to connect at many levels and with time in a more meaningful way.
By Nature, I mean my fundamental instinctive way of being and looking and thinking.
By Nature, I mean how I am in part arranged by the forces of nature. In Winter I light fires, in Summer I tend to my garden. I relish the light of day and darkness of night.
These forces are a part of the rhythm of my life.
moods find expression in the brightness of a day, the grumble of a cloud, in what I see. And the physicality of nature: the seasons the weather really does effect me and my photographing, and consequently the way I weave and sequence my narratives. I follow rather than deny what is given. And this gives natural rhythm.
Thus the storm was conceived because I was out with the camera in windy weather and I realised from the developed photographs that if I went out in late afternoon as the light began to fade I could take even longer exposures to gather the swaying branches as sweeping mark across the surface of the negative and page.
This was a process of discovery, the storm generated the idea
It really was very Wild!!

By Nature I mean I am drawn to
natural phenomenon, particularly plant life and insects. I love these living things. This is my
Belief threaded to the page when I was 20 years old.

Plant also Daddy Long legs (Volumes of Vulnerability 1999)

Their delicacy, their beauty, their structure how they draw the world to them.
I can look and I can touch them and now with my macro lens I can draw their beauty and intimacy as optical touch to the page.
Wood Sorrel
Meadow Sweet/primrose

Therefore, after the Storm I wanted to come back into the safety of the wood and the page, to
ground the experience. The Borders of flowers and insects, are all part of what I would call the community of the wood. And in the book they help establish this, by holding and embellishing the edge of the page. The Storm in contrast was unboundered.

The Borders were devised for other reasons too. I live in the Borders. And conceived this book as a form of visual poetry for contemplation, subtitling it A
Border Ballad. I was also aware that The Lyrical Ballads had been published 200 years previous in 1798.
This a very ancient bit of coppiced wood

The Borders also pay tribute to the wonderful Bruges Ghent School of manuscript painting, which flourished in the late 15th century when the Ancient Ettrick Forest still stood.

This school of painting made beautiful observations of nature. Their illusionistic borders are superb and visually established a sophisticated organization of the page; with the illusion of flowers strewn on top of the page emphasising the illusion of the picture within. There was much to be learnt from this. Not as something to be used as an end in itself, but rather
to give the bejewelled richness of the wood its place for the eye and hand in the book, to recreate the visual and tactile experience I was experiencing, while at the same time drawing the viewers eye further into the wood, into the page, through the book.

Towards the end of the book the constrictive nature of the borders give way to the heart of the wood,
its source, the burn and waterfall splayed in fecundity to the open page. Vital and unashamedly Romantic, again I thought of the birth of the Romantic era with the Lyrical Ballads of 1798.
Name & Locality however locates Wild Wood firmly to my patch as it were.

A very different book is
BETWEEN THE TWO. This was made before Wild Wood and published in 1997.
This book also brings together Nature, Landscape and Book but in a very different way.
As its title suggests, this book is about that place of Between.

Grasses Northern Cold (Scotland) and Southern Warmth (Italy) Between also something inside myself.
My introvert Cold, angular rigidity, frigidity maybe.
And at times extrovert sensuous warmth and yielding.
All this Interwoven, projected some would say, onto these places and weathers and objects

The contrasts of black on white and white, sunlight against dark

The contrasts of clashings and scratched calligraphic line and to sensuous arabesque and feelerings

By now my seeing of the natural world was informed by my experience of dance
Dance was a revelation: I discovered that narrative resided in the body and really did not need to be put into words. I learnt to trust in my visual making, how, like in dance, one thing/one movement could lead or be set next to another to create sequence.
To make sense.

It was through the physicality of dance that I realised I could open the aperture of my camera lens to move closely with my subject,
T follow, be drawn and draw the images into the camera and the gatherings of the book. I felt this was a female bodily language I was discovering, it had nothing to do with phallic projections and shots.

The blooming of this discovery was with the
Flower. Gathered to the signature and interleaved with tissue.
To encourage this erotic Bloom, its veiling, concealing, and teasing out, I interspersed tissue paper to give visual lightness and demand a lightness of touch from the viewer.
Beyond is the
beaded arabesques, and I was thinking of Arabic Calligraphy, Japanese patterned arabesques, dance, music all connected as love and natural explosions.
All this is Nature, all this is shaped by my emotion, my instinctive eye and conscious referenced way of seeing.

Yes how very
different are Between the Two and Wild Wood.
Texture is in someways the link:
In Between the Two the textures of Nature are explored as Calligraphic Mark in relation to ground and reproduced through line and mezzo tint half-tone
All are supported by the page, as surface, as ground.

Similarly in the putting together I found this book

By working
across the floor
In that way I found phrases
Arms widths that were concertinaed and then metered within the book by the cut edge of the page
Metering a kinaesthetic sense of movement that is appreciated with the turning of the page.
Working in signatures enabled the cobweb to hang from the corners and the Flowering, and these were the images that had to be worked around.
If Between the Two was about working with the supported horizontality of the page and book

Wild Wood worked in a very different way
And this is what I mean when I say that the book has continued to present and re-invent itself for my different expressive needs.
Wild Wood presents a very different psychological place within book.
Of necessity, Wild Wood needed to be dense and layered, and upright like the trees.
As I have already discussed it had to visually lead the eye into the page and book. Not across the page as in Between the Two.
Optical texture plays a huge part in doing this
I drew the eye in through the miniature.

Each little leaf distinct shimmering

Every surface activated, nuances of colour rendered as optical texture.

To intensify this and the focussing in I found myself quite naturally grouping my material into intensified areas at first
And these eventually became
storyboards: to find the narrative thread between areas.

How different from the horizontal working of
Between the Two.
Only once that I had the story moods did I begin to prepare a dummy book of each spread. And the book became revealed.
After this, each spread was worked on the computer.
Knowing that in the preparation for printing I would need to edit the book to 128 pages to be printed on two sheets of paper back and front to keep costs sensible.
64 pages back and front. Any economic sense was thrown to the wind with the hard back. Because this book needed protection, to be enclosed.
fern on the dust jacket was inspired by a Victorian leather book cover that I loved as a child.
Likewise, the listing by
Name and Locality was inspired by the small books of pressed wild flowers made by my father when he was young.
My choice of paper - coated, smooth, thin but tough ..was made to hold the dot, the detail to get maximum 3D effect.
Whereas in Between the Two I wanted Cartridge to provide the interaction between paper and mark.
Something I was also able to explore in Last Day in Kas.

Two other books I shall look at briefly are
Unravelling the Ripple published in 2001
Illiers Combray 2004.

The title for this book came in a dream in 1996 and I always knew the theme of this book would be an exploration of that place of meeting, the shifting boundary between water and land

gritty dry ....fluid liquid

rhythmic movement and stranded movement

the eye directed downward moving from one textured surface to another:


all embroidered, abundantly ornate,
what I thought of as “parerga” Kant's free beauties
I sought to render all this as
brocade, working the image to the surface of the page, on top of the page,
rock pool

or in the page
Like the tide line the images flow continuously across the page: I thought of Utumaro's ebb of the tideline
The top and bottom margin chosen to emphasise this flow across.
The waves
dissolving in the white of the page

Unlike Wild Wood and Unravelling the Ripple, Illiers Combray was gathered in France, the particular small town and countryside immortalised by Proust in his novel In Search of Lost Time.

Here was a place of reality that exists essentially in Fiction. It was in Fiction that I first encountered the place.

My reading of Proust was inspirational.

I conceived my book as a long concertina strip with two sides in reference to his
two ways and long flowing sentences, in which one experiences losing and gaining within the reading. In which one surfs/glides, gains insight and penetrates layers in depth.

I felt at home with his amassing of material, his cut and paste method of putting together this material,

his embroidered effect, his interjected detail, all brilliantly observed with his eye and bodily understanding of his text. All this was part of my own exploration and that of Zoe Irvine who made the two soundscapes) of the town Illiers Combray and its surrounding countryside. On foot, on bicycle:

Allowing for associations to be realised overtly as part of my looking and gathering.

stained glass

Mediaeval chivalry,
and verdure tapestry

I found myself immersed in a rural past, and passing:


Impressionist texture and weekend leisure,
Pissaro roads towards the edge, that place of meeting between town and country (image 21)

Allotments full with a dailyness, tending, husbandry, families

all in miniaturist pointillist precision, petit point, and French Knots
wire fences as threaded diamonds, threaded like needlework,
working across

vignettes snipped in, time within time, stories within stories,
linked through
and out

Reading Proust that gave reign to this richness and embroidered working. Something already in my former books, but here made manifest with the help of a digital camera. A first time user, I realised quickly its particular effect, its extraordinary compilation of pixellated detail, its relation to Jacquard weaving, point paper and pointillism. Its pure Patternistic effect with everything close up and a far minutely, flatly, rendered in focus on the surface.

The soundscapes gave a space
Real and fictional
held within covers
and of course within the context of Parisian sophistication/ the woman reading in the park

I wanted to bracket my seeing, and immersion in this place through these women reading:
The intimate reader and the public poise of the reader in the park
I, and the rural idyll needed that.

So yes to my involvement with Nature I love what it shows me.

And yes also to Landscape
that is its natural constituent parts brought together in the viewing

And yes to the genre of Landscape. that is the cultural construction
How others have seen and shaped the landscape through their making, through painting and literature, and landscaping and farming
What this has shown me too
How this has educated my eye and given context for my seeing

And yes also to Book
That is the place of my making
where I can gather all within the gatherings
and weave my visual narratives as text to the page
in and out,
teased to the surface
inside to out
expressing this to my viewer in an intimate and contained way

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