Lost in Execution: Fishing in Smoke in the Highwoods

In the Highwoods we dig up and burn the rhododendron. It is an invasive species not welcome in the woodland. The work is carried out by a team of volunteers; the bonfire must be placed under a clearing in the tree canopy and away from any roads. The smoke produced is thick and substantial.

As well as photographically recording this process I want to capture something physical, a track that marks the passing of an ephemeral state. I devise a process with steps, tools and outcomes to capture something of this act of woodland management.


I hang artboards into the smoke of the burning rhododendron, fishing for marks that simultaneously fulfil and challenge my preconceptions. Like chasing smoke in mist, I follow the process not knowing what I will find but knowing I am attracted by the thoughts it triggers and what I see. The smoke is thick. A combination of carbon and an amber, tar-like, substance with enough adhesion to hold the rising ash.

The series of artboards inhabited the studio with their pungent aroma requiring open windows and time to pass. I take digital photographs and interweave the images to emphasise the echoes of the smoke and the tracks of the ash. The amber tar was unexpected and wonderful both in its colour and its ability to hold the ash.

Smoke on art-board


Art-board with stencil

Fishing for Smoke

Fishing for Smoke with Leaves

Lost in Execution: Tangential

Tangential begins with the idea of a tangent and its relationship to a circle. This leads to thoughts of balance and chaos; `going off on a tangent’. I let my ideas explore a tangent’s relationship to a circle – a point of focus – while moving towards or away from the circle. Multiple tangents cluster around and create alternative definitions of the idea held at the centre; its relationship continues.

Tangential: 2cSpiralDev02a

Tangential: 2cSpiralDev02bdetail













Where is the balance between pattern and chaos? In the images above elements of the pattern are created by a series of tangents on a curve. I am interested in the idea of reflection and this is present in both the way I think and the way I work. I have a cyclical approach. I often focus on something and then leave it, returning later, expand upon it, and then move on, a process that may continue indefinitely. In this series of images, te blend of chaos and pattern attempts to identify and describe this search for balance.

Tangential 2cSpiralDev02c

Tangential 2cSpiralDev02cdetail

The tangents on a curve relate to a central idea. The detail maintains the sense of chaos and pattern in balance despite revealing some elements of the overlying pattern. I moved away from the photographic quality of the strips by using filters to de-emphasise the watercolour.

Desaturation moves away from the original wide colour palette of the watercolour strips while applying a similar filter style. Each of these images is tangents in their relationship to the original image.



Lost In Execution: Binary Centre 02

Binary Centre explores shifts in perception. I transfer the physical media of watercolour strips to digital media and manipulate it to produce the illusion of circles and spirals with more than one centre.

These are the base images that I overlay and manipulate to explore digitally the theme of Binary Centre.

Binary Centre - Base Image01Binary Centre - Base Image02Binary Centre - Base Image03









Base Image01 The original digital image shows the strips of colour overlapped around a central point which somewhere in the timeline moves to create two distinct centres – partial illusion of ellipses.

Base Image02 The strips are interwoven digitally but echo the original image.

Base Image03 A version of the double curve that was initially produced on paper but showing a digital weave. Proportionally correct to the original paper strips and while digitally manipulated, taking into account and understanding of the limitations of physical manipulation.

Binary Centre - Pattern Hints in Chaos Swathes

Binary Centre – Pattern Hints in Chaos Swathes


Pattern Hints in Chaos Swathes

I digitally overlay and rotate the pattern by hand and eye, seeking symmetry while avoiding perfection. I look to project concepts of symmetry interrupted by elements of chaos. The underlying structure offers a sense of balance between chaos and pattern, but with neither dominant. I also adjust the colour using saturation, colour shifts and tints.

I use the strengths of the computer as a tool to explore different elements of the image, but I use it in a `hand-made’ way, seeking a balance between the physical and the digital.







Binary Centre - Life's Golden Section

Life’s Golden Section

This is a close up from the previous image. As you move to the centre you see the full colour of the original image with no saturation. You can see that the circle is not smooth; you see the structure and rotation of the elements of the image and you can sense the conflict between balance and chaos. There is a lack of the precision that is usually associated with computers; you see the hand-made element and approaches within a digital environment which feel inherently paradoxical.

Binary Centre - Built By Hand Holding Numbers

Built by Hand Holding Numbers


Built by Hand, Holding Numbers

I like the chaotic movement of the previous image but here I look again at the underlying structure.  

I weave together the initial patterns then use a combination of horizontal translation and scaling so that the image gives a sense of movement and recession.

This is done manually to avoid that perfection of the number so easy to slip into with computers.








Binary Centre - Reason's Edge Revealed

Reason’s Edge Revealed


Reason’s Edge Revealed


In this detail from the previous image, you see that the left and right-hand side of the image have similarities but not perfect symmetry. You can see differences in the way the images are woven and the manner in which it recedes. The same elements are there but it is not mathematically precise: it is digital but hand-made.









Binary Centre - Laid By Man and Nature's Whim

Laid by Man and Nature’s Whim


Laid by Man and Nature’s Whim


A busy image. Two overlapping figures of eight (like Venn Diagrams) with a circular centre that suggests symmetry. The illusion of symmetry grows with distance but breaks down on close observation.










Binary Centre - Broken Line Forests

Broken Line Forests


Broken Line Forests

 I like taking sections from the larger images where you can see the physical qualities of the watercolour strips.  They remind me of driftwood locked together on the seashore.  This image opens lots of associations for me – the circle I associate with the sun and church `rose windows’.


Binary Centre - Eye Seeks Out Reason

Eye Seeks Out Reason


Eye Seeks Out Reason


Chaos, pattern and symmetry enclosed in a regular circle to provide a sense of restraint and balance. At this stage, I look to reinstate the balance, emphasise the rotation of the piece, and the circular quality of the gap in the middle built of irregular straight lines. The scale changes our perception of the image.

I have reinstated the symmetry but ask why is it symmetrical?




Created by hand
Objects become metaphors
Links are forged by thought

Lost in Execution started with a drawn plan. Plans are a definition of a process; a structure that you work through. If working with a plan or a defined process what you end up with is often more complex and, in unpredictable ways, may be different from the original ideas. It is this translation, the movement between what is planned and what is finally achieved that I find interesting.

Each medium whether physical or digital imposes its own structure and pushes the work in its own direction, You are constantly either going with the flow or fighting to push it elsewhere.  It would be easier and faster to use the digital facilities available to rotate, duplicate and shift the elements of the picture but there is a balance to be achieved between the digital and the physical and I want the hand and mind of the artist to be central in my work.

Lost in Execution: Binary Centre 01

Binary Centre explores working with an initial watercolour piece and manipulating that initial piece through the digital to form a circle.  The idea, which initially I thought of as `Bi-Centre’ having 2 centres, developed into the idea of binary as I explore the perception of multiple centres. A single binary digit gives the possibility of two values (0 or 1 ) with each-each additional digit the number of values doubles (2, 4, 8, 16…) it felt to me like this is what was happening.  The Haiku are not explanations of the image but hints at some of the thoughts behind their production.

The Complex Resolves to One

Binary Centre: The Complex Resolves to OneThe circle contains spiral elements. A strip crosses the image horizontally, creating a barrier between the viewer and the circular image. The background is digitally created as a watercolour wash from photographs of the original strips of torn paper (see my previous Blog Lost in Execution: Binary Centre – Process). Photographs of the torn, coloured, paper strips are digitally manipulated by hand to create the circular image. In the foreground, there is a digital image of a strip of torn paper, covered by a green gradated wash.

The band across the front of the image and the wash in the background give a greater sense of depth.

In this series, I play with multiple centres on the Z-axis. If you look from a specific point the image retains the same XY-axis but presents the impression of disappearing into the background. It is also a record of a process over time as it moves into the distance. The concept of time is related to plans and processes; plans are predictions forward in time while a process is something that happens over time.  This is something that I explore in much of my work.


 Seen From A Distance

Binary Centre: Seen From A DistanceThe background is a tonal grey translation of the wash used in The Complex Resolves to One with the colour digitally stripped away. Elements of the receding line are also translated into monochrome.

There is a tradition in English watercolour of aerial perspective which is the changing of colour as it moves into the distance. In this case the change is a jump to neutral monochrome.









With Effort One Can Be Seen

Binary Centre: With Effort One Can Be SeenA vertical blue strip travels down the centre of the image. The circular image now has an overlay with two distinct centres, both of which are hidden by the blue strip. Straight lines begin by resolving around a centre point in the lower half but then seem to shift and resolve around a second centre point which is higher. The main image has been reduced to a monochrome with hints of green and red

Even within abstract work, I play with multiple illusions; the illusion of depth, of paper strips and of circles in an image made up of straight lines.








Models Reveal Part

Binary Centre: Models Reveal PartTwo strips cross the image. The background shows all the original torn strips that were used to create the physical watercolor piece, laid across and down the page.













Seeking One Centre

Binary Centre: Seeking One CentreThe foreground elements of a vertical and horizontal sloping cross create a barrier pushing the viewer back from the central element.

The background tonal colours have changed.  To achieve this I selected certain colours from within the image and `shifted’ them muting the blues towards the monochrome and increasing the colour saturation of the reds.










Suddenly Beyond

Binary Centre: Suddenly BeyondThis image removes the visual barrier and lets you enter the image. The reds have been enhanced and the circular image now jumps to the foreground and attempts to leave the page.

Change is constant; the change during the process of creating an image and the change between creating one image and another. It can purely be perceptual change, for example a shift in awareness caused by revisiting the image.









A Rhythm Lost Creates Noise

Binary Centre: A Rhythm Lost Creates NoiseThe final image of this series is much simpler as only echoes or shadows of the original complex circle-spiral remain. The two centre points are a vertical reflection. The four strips of colour that cross the image show three in front of the image while the top strip appears to go behind the shadow of the circular image.



Lost in Execution: Binary Centre – Process

Process is the art.

This is part of the Lost in Execution project, which continues to explore the nature of plans, process and observation.

This new series of work is essentially an exploration of the process of moving from physical media, in this case from watercolour on paper strips, to digital media.

I begin by using watercolour to paint on and over the edge of an A3 piece of paper. In this way I create two lines – one is on the A3 paper and a second is on a larger sheet that lies beneath. Once the paint is dry, I tear off the narrow strip of paper which is covered in paint at the edge of the A3 sheet. I now have a strip of paper and a line on the larger sheet that is the same colour.  I choose a different colour and repeat the process, so creating a range of coloured lines and torn, strips of coloured paper. I start to explore the shapes and colour combinations.

Often, the process is the art…