Sarah Gregory*

MEET UPS: April, May 2018 and January 2019

PROJECT : To explore the interaction between pictures and poems on the pages of a book.

QUOTE : ‘Islands and stories.  Every time you arrive, you think / how it would feel to pull the sea around you at night,/ except that the next land floats in the distance, waiting.’        From Of Islands in ‘Mandeville’ by Matthew Francis



I have moved my focus back to the visual arts and am printmaking at Bath College and in my new studio at home.  At present I am getting to grips with a few new techniques and I am drawing ( rather than writing ) a diary everyday.  I am also writing poetry but have nothing in final draft yet.  And I am slowly gathering poems for a pamphlet – an uphill task.  My recent visit to Myanmar was astonishing and perplexing.  I need time to get any kind of understanding of that exotic experience.




Looking back over the summer, I think the main influences on my project have been:

  • the workshops: well, all of them.  Thank you Sue – they were, as always, quite wonderful.  But in particular I remember the one where I received feedback on Island Count;   Michael’s presentation on Edgelands and the one where Ama presented her poem about witnesses .  So eye opening.
  • my visit to Gainsborough’s house in Sudbury where they have Constable and Gainsborough drawings followed by a visit to the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden where I saw Ravilious drawings among others.  So I am experimenting with line shading , the use of lines being akin to writing.  And this took me on to thinking about the role of dots!
  • Being in the Lake District with Wainwright’s books which have such a solid unity about them:  text and images perfectly together.

So I have written six poems over the summer which is a good number for me.  And I think they are improving.  I suppose the fact that I am now absolutely stuck on my latest is a good thing.  I am getting more critical.

Since Island Count , I have not finished any more artworks that lie directly in my project but I am keeping a sketchbook for both words and images and aiming to unite them.  I am also laying out a book I have written to encourage children into the Wiltshire countryside to find butterflies.  This includes text, my sketches of landscape, illustrations both paintings and photos of the butterflies and maps. 

And I have signed up for a course at Bath College next term which will lead to access to screen printing which I need to develop my project in the future.


At the heart of this presentation is my book ‘Kitchen Garden’, the first of three concertina books I have made and the only one with substantive text.

‘Kitchen Garden’ springs from my interest in books as objects, bought and sold, handled, admired, used as gifts and sometimes destroyed or possibly read.  Text, illustrations, binding, paper, size and shape are all seen as part of the entity.  Books usually have monetary and sentimental value and may have complex life cycles generally with a limited term.

In this case I saw the book itself as an integrated artwork possibly to be displayed but not for sale and not to be reproduced.  I wanted the learning curve of the process of making it.  ‘Kitchen Garden’ will not have a long life: the paper is already foxing.

The Chinese binding, size and shape of the book etc were givens as is the paper which acts slightly like blotting paper.  Each double page spread has the same format.  I only used black and white and I think I only used the calligraphy pen and my wide brush that I generally use for Roman capitals.  I hoped to give the book unity in this way.

Also I particularly wanted the text and drawings to be an integrated whole.  I did not want the drawings to be illustrations nor did I want the text to spring directly from the drawings.  Both are sourced from the subject, the kitchen garden.  But I did the drawings first since they require the view to be there. 

I decided to draw exactly the same view over and over.  So there is a narrative about my changing response to it as well as diurnal change.  For each drawing I had to walk out of the house, along the garden and climb some steps built round a Norwegian spruce to the studio balcony that overlooks the whole garden and views beyond.  These actions of going and returning were part of the process.  Each time I walked to the view of the kitchen garden and then I came away.

I did this on the hour every hour and allowed myself only ten minutes for each drawing.  I intended to capture my initial response only.  There was not much time for thinking and the drawings are all about mark making.  In the time between I wrote each opposite page.  So this book reflects time passing in a measured way.

The writing is free writing, again without much consideration.  And again it is also about calligraphic mark making.  What interests me is whether I would expect the viewer to read it all.  Generally speaking poems are read word by word.  But some sense can be had here by just picking out words or speed-reading.  It is a kind of impression.  Some of the free writes are only lists or repeated phrases.

Perhaps I want the viewer to read the writing in the same way that they read the drawing, picking out points of interest and making connections.  I think this is exactly what I did in the drawings as they became more abstract through the day.  And does the writing also become more abstract?

What do the images say?  What do the words say? Why is there a difference?

Sarah Gregory    8/6/17


Having been away from home almost the whole of March and with another two weeks away in April, I have not produced anything substantial.  However to develop the project I have been keeping two diaries:  the first is largely written and intended as a base for future writing and the second is a concertina sketch book (now complete ) which contains both writing , drawing and collage, often on the same page.  It is a bit tentative and lacks unity since I chose to experiment but again it is a base for future work.  I am showing the sketchbook to anyone interested as a way of getting feedback on what works.  This means I have been thinking about the project most days.


What I gained from sharing my visual images with the group

Most  people, perhaps all, enjoyed looking at the visual images.  I think those there found them attractive and interesting.  This seems to me to validate the process.

It was agreed that the narrative of the poem had been lost but other meaning had been gained.  Some were more certain of this than others.

We noticed the disaggregation of the lines and floating words.  One or two people were disturbed by the effect of this on the poem and all agreed that legibility mattered though in a visual art workshop this might not be so strongly felt.  No-one liked the poem printed up side down though this is a strong visual image.

I could see that the fragmentation of the drawings and poems could go much further perhaps producing visual images that were more ambiguous/enigmatic/challenging.


I started down the woodcut route in January but quickly realised that I was taking the project forward in far too narrow a way.  The woodcuts themselves imply separation from the pictures.  And some of the pictures I want to use do not lend themselves to woodcuts.   The whole production process was rigid and unwieldy and slow.  

So I have taken another route:  I am now using my drawings, experimenting with size, scale and tone and making collages.  I am also developing, not yet successfully, my own calligraphy which can also be cut up and pasted where it fits.  In terms of the final product, I am trying both screen-printing and using my Mac. (This is helpful in investigating alternative fonts).  On both fronts, this is a steep learning curve.  So I am not sure where this is leading….



In the short-term I am creating pages of pictures and poems.  Ultimately I would like to make a themed book of new poems and pictures.

black-poplar-pond-paul-nashI shall do this by creating a book of my own poems and pictures.  Some of the poems and nearly all the pictures will be new. Each double spread should work in terms of meaning and style.  The pictures should not be only illustrations and the text should not be only a commentary on the pictures. The models for this are Blake’s illuminated manuscripts such as ‘ The Songs of Innocence and Experience’.  But I also had inspiration from the current exhibition of Paul Nash at Tate Britain.  His wood engraving ‘ Black Poplar Pond’ (usually seen by itself) is exhibited alongside his own hand written poem.  Another inspiration is Mervyn Peake’s  ‘Letters from a Lost Uncle’ which is a perfect example of pictures and text used together creatively.  In these examples the book is an integrated whole.  .  This raises questions about materiality: size, paper, typeface if any, colour if any, binding. 

I would like this book to be truly contemporary but on the whole do not like modern ‘artists’ books’.  Often I find both pictures and writing are subservient to the idea of the book itself as a work of art.  Content may be thin or just not rich enough in scope.  Such books suffer from a kind of quirkiness.  The challenge is to reconcile the traditional (a book itself is traditional) with what is happening now in writing and visual art.  I hope I can learn something from the graphic works of Anselm Kiefer and William Kentridge.




2 comments on “Sarah Gregory*

  1. janetmcclean says:

    Hi Sarah – I very much enjoyed your words with graphics. I live in Holt and if you would like to meet up for a coffee do drop me an email.
    best wishes Janet


  2. Your work sounds fascinating, Sarah. I enjoyed reading the fine details of your project process.


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