Materials and their properties
Ash – I collect ash from our wood-burning stoves and all of the logs have been felled at Barnhillies. I like it for its soft, nostalgic qualities and for its references to mortality and homage to Anselm Kiefer. It can be unstable, but sticks well to bog myrtle oil and varnish.
Barn paint – is a relatively modern medium, used extensively to paint corrugated iron or plastic. It has wonderful adhesive qualities – it sticks to anything – and can be thinned or mixed with other paints and pigments. Oil based.
Beeswax – is mixed with turpentine to make a flexible, opaque medium. I get wax from my neighbour, so the bees will have gathered nectar from my land. The wonderful scent is evocative of summer wild flower meadows.
Bitumen – is a raw form of petroleum oil, very like pitch or tar. It’s used to seal animal shelters, roofing and corrugated iron and is still used frequently in this quiet time-warp of the Stewartry. It is viscous, aromatic and unstable and I like it for its echoes of Arte Povera. Oil based
Bog Myrtle oil – acres of this aromatic shrub grow in our wet lowlands. Extracting the oil is time-consuming, so I only use it for smaller works, but worth it for the historical references and the evocative smell. Oil
Charcoal – I have a load of charcoal made for me by Oliver Reed from our own willow, as part of an environmental art project
Calico – was the traditional material for wool sacks, but has now been largely replaced by woven plastic. Made from natural fibres it has lovely organic qualities and is perfect for installations when I want light to permeate through and become part of the work. Calico is also the traditional material for shrouds.
Grooming chalk – is used to clean and prepare stock for the show ring, Made from natural chalk it is very soft and friable, ideal for picking up texture from the barn floor.
Lime-wash (or whitewash) – was used to bring light and protection to barns and other animal shelters. It is made from burned lime and has disinfectant properties. It can be very unstable, but has beautiful qualities as an art medium, particularly the way it absorbs pigments unevenly, (but must be used with care as it is caustic). Water based.
MDF is everywhere for internal use on farms, so although purists disapprove, I find it a useful and relevant material. It’s light, but more stable than paper to work on in the open air and is ideal for large, modular works. I also like the way one can use gravity to move paint by manipulating the panels.
Red oxide is used widely as a protective paint, mainly on metal. I love it for its rich colour and texture, for its reference to volcanic rocks and for the way it echoes the glow of grass and bog myrtle in the evening light. Oil based.
Sheep dye is used as a cosmetic rinse before taking sheep to market. I particularly like brown-face dye, which can be diluted into a thousand different tones and hues. Water based.
Spray paint is used all over farms, again as a quick graffito reminder. Spirit based.
Stockholm tar – is distilled from pine sap and has a strong, evocative aroma. It’s used as an organic anti-biotic, especially for treating damaged hooves. Its instability produces serendipitous mark-making.
Wood – I use wooden panels, cut from our own timber. These are sawn for me at a local company, McConnel Wood Products, Archie McConnel is very good at finding interesting grain for me to emphasise in my work.
Zinc panels are used to create stock-handling pens. Once corrosion has eroded the zinc surface, wonderful weathering patterns occur as the under-metal corrodes.