This post is jointly written by Jethro Brice, John Fanshawe, and Kate Foster
At Purton Boat Graveyard an assortment of disused river craft were buried over the years to protect the eroding shoreline of the River Severn. Jethro Brice suggested this site as somewhere to continue experiments in shared drawing of place.
Arriving at high tide, we watched the mass of the muddy estuary water drop astoundingly fast. The wind was blowing hard upstream, and patches of sun ripped across the estuary.
We talked about what we aspire to do, through drawing. John Fanshawe has proposed ‘biocultural drawing’ to describe bringing biological and cultural aspects together on the page, in order to mine a sense of place.
John’s conservation work with BirdLife International includes reflection on the relationships between species loss and how that relates to the extinction of experience. Jethro’s PhD research aims to draw multispecies wetland narratives, and open spaces of encounter at different levels, between human and non-human cultures and between disciplines. Kate uses drawing to investigate relationships, focusing on particular vignettes of environmental change and drawing out questions of scale. She draws as a path to reflective observation, making links to what is happening over time and in different places. With Michael van Beinum, we reflected on how – individually and collectively – we might find structures to keep our exploration of places through drawing an open process.
Layering suggested itself as a initial theme, and Jethro’s warm-up solo drawings combined mud, masking fluid, and pen to convey weathered boat hulls. Kate considered the circular growth of lichen on the hulks, the horizontal movement of the tide and wind, and the rapid vertical drop of the water surface measured against a boat’s rudder. John explored how the movement of the wind – through both the riverside vegetation – and the falling tide animates drawings.
We settled on a structure of shared drawing, with successive five minute attention to line, wash, colour and texture, before passing the drawings on. We all used the same media, preselected to suit the damp setting (wax pencils, water brush, ink and mud) and hoped that the rain might do some of the work.
Some shared drawings are shown below.
Time and weather put a dampener on further experiments.
With cups of tea and shelter, we considered why wildlife drawings (that can become bird portraits fixed in space and habitat) do not always satisfy our viewpoints from both conservation and the environmental humanities?
We reflected that our perspectives demand that any species is better understood in relation – as a constellation of complex relationships in time and space. It is possible to admire wildlife imagery when it is a triumph of technique combined with observation. However, when such drawing reaffirms a harmonious world, it could also serve to distract and obscure. If we find that through drawing, we distance ourselves from the non human world and objectify it, this runs the risk of reinforcing the idea that nature and culture are separate. So our discussions focussed on avoiding this dualistic separation, and how we might try to make our drawing more relational and embedded.
Looking at nature or landscape in terms of relationships requires exploration of how of how what we are observing is shaped through human activity, both our own and that of others. The shorebird species, Bar-tailed Godwit is an example of how a relational approach helps. Research into its migration has had practical implications for joining up the links in a global conservation movement. Bar-tailed Godwits are migrating earlier because of changes in mowing regimes in the Netherlands, and arriving early in West Africa where they can damage young rice crops. As a result, women are forced to walk long distances and grow lower yields of rice in the rainforest. Just knowing the godwits as a species overlooks a complex constellation of shifting relationships, all of which are critical to understanding the needs of the birds and the people with which they interact along a flyway. But it remains the case that seeing a species as a discrete taxonomic unit is the prevalent way of learning about and representing most birds.
So, what can we do, in terms of drawing or strategies, to keep in mind the possibilities of shifting relationships, and make them more visible? A group, just as much as an individual, can get stuck. The drawing we aspire to in our shared sessions seems to be a strategy to force thought, to keep our affective responses lively, and to use the page as a tool to prompt reflection and conversation. Paper as a medium has strengths, being portable and cheap, but what other media and modes can we combine?
In our next session, we might return to images repeatedly, or work in rotation on different subjects. We may try different ways of using words – both as prompts and as responses.