Category Archives: Field Sketching

Maps That Mean Something

“They were maps that lived, maps that one could study, frown over, and add to; maps, in short, that really meant something.”

Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals.

If you read my last blog ( Give me a map…) you’ll know that I put the blame for my love of maps fairly and squarely on my father.

Give me a map …

The responsibility for my love of poetry is less easy to assign to just one person.  This never mattered very much because it never occurred to me that I would need to get the two things to work together.  Doing the MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts , however, has created some unusual alliances in the way I think about things.  Around about the time I was walking the Wales Coast Path around the South Gower, two projects were occupying my mind.

Higgledy Piggledy thinking

The first was how I was going to find away to convert all of the experiences and ideas of that journey into a map that made sense and the second related to a piece of work that I have been asked to submit for the exhibition called ’50 Bees – The Interconnectedness of All Things’.  You can find out more about the exhibition here .  Luckily I was reading ‘Art Quilt Maps’ by Valerie S. Goodwin.  One of the chapters is called ‘Map Haiku:Visual Poetry’ and set me on the way to making the sort of maps which reflect both the physical landscape and the way in which I experienced it when I was out there walking.

A word about Haikus and other forms of poetry

Lots of people don’t know what a haiku is.  This is because they didn’t grow up with my sister Helen.  By the time she was 10, Helen knew virtually everything in the world (or so I thought at the time).  It is thanks to Helen that by the time I was 8, I had been instructed in a variety of theories including how to mummify a corpse ancient-Egypt style, how to skin a rabbit and -most importantly for my MA – how to write a haiku.  A haiku is a form of minimalist Japanese poetry with a set number of syllables.  Strictly speaking, the first phrase should evoke the season to set the time of the haiku, the second phrase the place and so on.  Let me not, however, give Helen more responsibility for my love of poetry than she is due.  My mother was a poet whose work was best described as Vogon-like (only readers of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will understand – and sympathise).  I grew up with shopping lists written in rhyme, limericks on birthday cards and – worst of all – letters to teachers excusing me from games or for absence – composed as country & western style song lyrics.

The architects of my love of poetry

In some ways I failed to escape the early influences and I still find it incredibly easy to write in verse although I usually get bored and move on to a different activity after about 4 stanzas.  Luckily I live in Wales, a country with more than its fair share of poets.  I love the brooding melancholy of R.S. Thomas (Reservoirs):

“There are places in Wales I don’t go:

Reservoirs that are the subconscious

Of people, troubled far down

With gravestones, chapels, villages even:”

and I adore the imagery of Dylan Thomas(Hold hard, these ancient minutes):

“Hold hard, these ancient minutes in the cuckoo’s month,

Under the lank, fourth folly on Glamorgan’s hill,

As the green blooms ride upward, to the drive of time;”

So as I thought about the South Gower and the 50 Bees,  I wondered about using a haiku as a starting point.  Especially as I had no other ideas floating about in my head.  Rather than use a Japanese form of poetry, I did a bit of research and found that there is a Welsh version called an englyn.  There are 24 different styles of englynion which range from incredibly complex to just downright incomprehensible.  The englyn milwyr (soldier’s englyn) was the simplest: 3 lines, 7 syllables per line with the last syllable of each line rhyming.  I thought that the soldiers wouldn’t mind me borrowing and tweaking their englyn so I decided my verses would be in English and would go with the 3 lines, 7 syllables but not bother with the rhyming.  I started with the 50 Bees simply because time was pressing and I had been getting emails which urged me to send photographs of the completed work as soon as possible.  The COMPLETED work?  Small chance of that happening.  I had been assigned a bee called the Colletes Cunicularis which is a fussy eater of goat willow and has very specific ideas on where home should be – sand dunes.  Also, my bee was prone to dancing with all the other bees from her hive.  I liked that image and thought about it a lot as I walked around the sand dunes of Kenfig Burrows in Glamorgan.

Postcard sized embroidery of Kenfig Burrows

According to local legend Kenfig was once a rich town and its people were cursed after they failed to show shelter to an old man on a stormy night.  Voices on the wind were heard to cry “Dial a ddaw” (Vengeance is Coming) and by morning the whole town had been buried in a sandstorm.  It is said that the bell of the church can still be heard ringing from beneath the waters of Kenfig Pool.  That story helped my englyn along.

“Paths swept by wind, strewn with gold

are lost to all save those who

watch her giddy dance unfold.”

There we are – 3 lines, 7 syllables per line.  Easy – thanks to Helen and Mum.

It made my final piece of work for the 50 Bees exhibition almost logical.  I just scaled everything up and got my poetry in for all the world to see.

The Giddy Dance

I decided to apply the same methodology to the South Gower.  I looked back over the photographs I had taken and the sketches that I had made.  In my mind the images of stairs cut into the woodland floor and the smells of carpets of wildflowers were still strong; I remembered that I had been mulling over a problem and trying to find a solution that was proving to be irritatingly elusive.  3 lines, 7 syllables per line later, I came up with this:

“Heavy, heady, scented steps

Violets, Ramsons, Celandines

Perfume the path, the moment.”

I was more pleased with the englyn than it probably deserves and this may have been because it kick started a design idea for a map of the South Gower walk.  I did a postcard size sample piece to just make sure I had the colours, lines and textures going the way I wanted them to.

South Gower 1 – Postcard

I came to the conclusion there wasn’t enough map-like content in my postcard.  It could as easily have been an atoll in the South Pacific as the coast of South Wales.  I refined my design and my colour palette and started again, this time working on watercolour paper rather than fabric and layering up glazes before stamping the text on.  I’m not that keen on stitching into paper and I’ll probably be altering my techniques before I do the next map but I’m not dissatisfied with the outcome of the South Gower map.

South Gower Moment

Felly, i ble nesaf?  Wel, es i am dro dros y mynydd lleol sef Mynydd Llangeinwyr.  Roedd y gwynt yn gryf iawn.  Tynnais i luniau gyda chamèra ac yn fy llyfr sgets.  Wedyn, daeth y geiriau’r englyn yn hawdd.  

My next map is probably going to be based on a walk I did over Llangeinor Mountain.  Llangeinor is a tiny hamlet on an ancient drovers’ route across the Glamorgan uplands.  On the day we crossed these now barren moorlands, the wind was harsh and bitter so:

“That wind – cuts through cloud spun light

carving shapes, crafting shadows,

splintering the dry stone walls.”

I’m not sure what sort of map I’ll be making to go with this englyn but I’m pretty sure that it will be one to frown over, study and it will mean a bit more than if I’d just drawn the route.

Never written an englyn: try now! 3 lines, 7 syllables per line.



What’s in a name?

When my super intelligent, super talented sister decided to write a blog, her biggest challenge was not how she would find the time to write (newly retired from keeping the NHS afloat, time for personal pursuits is a novelty) or what she would write about (cooking, touring, history, walking, living in the beautiful Welsh Marches etc).  No, it turned out that what caused her embryonic career as a blogger to stutter was finding a title for it.  After trying to match the expectations of her potential readers with her own ideas and aspirations she came up with this which I think works pretty well (as, indeed, do her blogs).

Duro and Helen
Duro and Helen

When I started out as a Textile Artist I wondered whether I should use my own name or come up with something a little less personal.  There were a couple of reasons: firstly, my name is not that uncommon and, coincidentally, there’s another Maria Lalic in the art world although she is higher profile and exhibits in places like the Tate; secondly, as much as I love textile art, I also love primitive craft, writing, teaching workshops, gardening and loads of other things.  I wondered about having an all-encompassing label for these things because I thought that people who liked my artwork might think that there was a multitude of people with the same name doing loads of different things.  I couldn’t come up with the umbrella term in the same way as my sister did so I settled on giving each activity a different name.  Textiles to Treasure showed off my attempts at crafts,

Mumma Doll
Mumma Doll

Rebecca Alston wrote short stories, book reviews and magazine articles and Simple Country Folk reflected my interest in gardening, simple living and self reliance.  When Lorraine from Greenweeds Web Design got involved she was adamant that everything should come under my name because she said – quite rightly – all of the different aspects of my character affected the work I produce as a Textile Artist.

I wasn’t convinced but I said goodbye to all of my alter-egos and carried on as just me.  Nowhere is this more obvious than on my twitter account where I use my 140 characters to micro blog about textile art,


my cat Lily,

What now?
What now?

how the garden looks,

After weeding ...
After weeding …

the weekly Porthcawl Park Run

and my treks through the local countryside.

Early morning on River Garw
Early morning on River Garw


Weithiau, wrth gwrs, rydw i’n ysgrifennu yn y Gymraeg achos bod diddordeb mawr ‘da fi yn yr iaith Gymraeg ac Hanes a Diwylliant Cymru ac mae llawer o bobl yn defnyddio twitter am yr un peth.   

We pretty much get stuck with the names our parents give us but of course you can wreak revenge when you name your own offspring though that is easy compared to naming pieces of artwork.  When I had my usual pop up exhibition at the year’s Wonderwool I was struggling with what to call this piece but my problem was solved by my pal, the wonderfully talented artist Miranda Bowen , who came up with a great title.

The Guardian
The Guardian

At the same event I showed some work that I had made for an exhibition that I’ll be having at Bryngarw Country Park on the 30/31 July 2016.  Exhibitions also need names! I found a snippet of a quote from the Book of Isaiah which referred to a ‘habitation of dragons and a court of owls’ so the name for the exhibition is ‘A Habitation of Dragons’ and all of the pieces of work will be inspired by dragons or dragon-lore.

The Dragon of Cwm Garw Fechan
The Dragon of Cwm Garw Fechan

That’s a lot of titles to come up with and whilst they sound a bit fictional (Heuldra, Lamia, Sreca for example), all of the names have their roots in mythology or the Welsh language.  So whilst I was standing there at Wonderwool, waxing lyrical about the variety of Textile Art I had on display, talking about the things which inspire or interest me and giving information about our NGS open garden day to just about anybody who stopped long enough to listen, a lady came up to me and said “Is this all yours?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“There’s too much,” she said, “and it’s all too different, too confusing.  I can’t cope.”  And she walked away.

I wonder what Lorraine would have to say about that.

A dweud y gwir, does dim ots ‘da fi nawr. Yn yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol eleni, byddaf i’n gwneud sesiwn crefft ym Maes D yn y bore ac yn siarad am fy ngardd yn y prynhawn Ddydd Gwener.  Dewch a dweud ‘Helo’ pe basech chi yno. 

Less is More

“You can’t see the forest for the trees”

Once I make up my mind to do something I am completely committed.  It’s getting to the point where I make up my mind that causes me trouble.  Take going on holiday for example.  When I was young there was no choice when it came to destination or activity.  We had days out  when Mum convinced us that walking miles, beachcombing and swishing little fishing nets in mountain streams were the ultimate holiday pastime.  Picnics of squidgy beef spread sandwiches and  warm orange squash with the promise of an ice cream cornet for good behaviour were all we wanted – which is just as well because that was all we got.

Black Mountains Picnic
Black Mountains Picnic

These days I keep my holidays short and pack them with all sorts of activity.  Last week I combined walking part of the Wales Coast Path with, amongst other things, meeting my chum Lorraine from Greenweeds.  Lorraine tries her very best to get me interested in and interacting with social media.  To some extent, she has succeeded but not, I suspect, in the way she anticipated when she created this website.  Anyway, let’s go back to the Wales Coast Path.  The weather on Tuesday started off cold and squally and ended up like the tail end of a hurricane.  Not ideal conditions to be walking along cliff tops with waves crashing on jagged rocks a couple of hundred feet below.  Nevertheless I started walking at Llanrhystud and aimed for Aberystwyth.

Is this the way to ...
Is this the way to …

Before the weather closed in I got some spectacular views of where I’d been

Llanrhystud Beach
Llanrhystud Beach

and where I was going.

Yes,  that path is heading for the cliff edge ...
Yes, that path is heading for the cliff edge …

Photographs like this are not much use to me as an artist.  They’ve got too much detail and not enough atmosphere to remind me of what it was like to actually be in the landscape.  Diolch byth am fy llyfr sgets!  Mewn gwirionedd, dw i ddim yn dda iawn yn tynnu neu beintio go iawn ond dw i’n mwynhau sgetsio. Using a sketchbook allows me to pare down the information and give myself a starting point for a piece of textile art.  These are some of my sketches of the part of the Wales Coast Path between Llanrhystud and Aberystwyth and I don’t apologise to purists for the standard of drawing.

Sketches on Artist Trading Cards
Sketches on Artist Trading Cards

These sketches are the size of Artist Trading Cards and you can find out more about the background of ATCs here.  They are a perfect example of how working with less can bring you more.  Even if you don’t get involved in the trading aspect, restricting your design information to a small piece of card can really focus your mind on what’s important in your artwork.  ATCs are a great way to network with other artists but also help you to develop your own abilities.

Day 2 of the holiday involved a trip to Dolgellau to visit the amazing wool shop Knit One , which is run by the beautiful black cat, Bramble Murgatroyd and her assistants, Angharad and Kate.

Bramble surveys her realm
Bramble surveys her realm

Bramble, Angharad, Kate & I would never have encountered each other if it hadn’t been for Lorraine persuading me to use Twitter as a form of micro-blogging.  In 140 characters and 4 images, I can show the world – or at least the tweeting part of it – what I’m up to as an artist.  I soon realised that more people are interested in what Lily, my cat, is doing than what I’m creating.  In this example of less being more, getting a tweet from Bramble about how cats don’t like circular knitting needles, led to me spending a fabulous morning in Knit One having a lesson in how to knit using a  magic loop.  On the journey back to Aberystwyth, my sketchbook was at hand, recording less detail and more memory prompts.

Slopes of Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn
Slopes of Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn
Near Corris
Near Corris

With a rucsac packed full of fleece that Lorraine didn’t want, day 3 saw me back in Llanrhystud, this time walking the coast path south towards Aberaeron.  The weather was glorious, the terrain kinder and the views spectacular.  I could put some photographs here to prove it but my third example of less being more comes from looking for shapes and lines rather than a whole picture.

Shapes, textures, shadows
Shapes, textures, shadows
Lines and angles
Lines and angles

Incidentally on my way back from Dolgellau I called into the Centre for Alternative Technology which is where I first discovered Permaculture.  For ditherers like me, being spoiled for choice can be a real challenge because I spend too much time and effort on trying to deal with the whole picture Instead of the bits which are important.  There’s a great website describing Permaculture principles that you can view here and I’ve deliberately directed you to Principle 7 which is about designing from patterns to details – useful when you can’t see the forest for the trees .

Last word to Bramble
Last word to Bramble