Exploring Nature in Art with Hannah Clare
I sometimes think the demands and distraction that go hand in hand with adulthood cause us to navigate far away from many of the creative endeavours often enjoyed in our earlier days. In my youth I adored drawing and painting but as I grew older and began to focus my education towards a particular career pathway (shoot production), I unintentionally drifted away from the other creative practices with which I was once so absorbed. Now, in trying to adopt a slower, more mindful way of life, I can see the importance in committing a little time to create something.
For a while, my partner and I have been talking about making our own pigments from natural materials (something far outside our wheelhouse). With this in mind, I was delighted to learn that artist, Hannah Clare -who’s work I have admired for some time- had begun exploring with natural ink. Collecting and interacting with the natural landscape is an important part of Hannah’s work which communicates organic forms, patterns and textures using a beautiful, calming tonal palette. With a view to encouraging others to reengage with the creative outlets of their earlier days, and to learn more about the process of working with nature in art, I spent a little time speaking with Hannah to explore her approach and practice.
Hello, Hannah – Thank you so much for spending some time with me and Letters of Ara. For anyone new to your work, please tell us a little about yourself and how you found your path as an artist?
Hello all! Thanks very much for having me Lauren, I'm so glad to be part of this beautiful project.
I am Hannah, I am an artist, I live in sunny, blustery Brighton. I have loved making for art as long as I can remember but I suppose it became a really significant part of my life as a teenager, I loved art at school and creativity was how I expressed myself in my own time too. After leaving school I took a BTEC in Art & Design for 2 years, It felt like a dream to go straight into studying art full time. Then I fell in love with Brighton and got a place to study illustration at the University of Brighton 2006. I chose illustration because my work always fell somewhere between fine art and design, and I liked the idea of developing my own visual language and being able to respond to anything in this way. These were an amazing, immersive and playful few years but I struggled with where my work fit in the illustration world and being an introverted person, I ended up feeling a bit burnt out by education by the end. So I've spent the years since then slowly finding my voice and confidence as an artist, realising my love for abstract work and honing a practice which combines my love of art and nature.
How would you summarise your work?
My works are mixed-media collages, arrangements of mark-making, drawing, printed and found material, and more recently, natural inks. I have always thought of these pieces as visual poems or microcosms. They are culminations of time spent walking, gathering, reading, making marks, creating colours, printmaking, responding to an experience or something I've collected. The final piece captures a place, season, time and memory. My work has always been informed by the natural world; since I was a child I have loved immersing myself in nature and I have always found joy in gathering things, noticing small creatures, textures, colours and being aware of the changes each season brings.
I start by working freely on making marks, shapes, colours and patterns, working intuitively. Then I create carefully considered compositions, thinking about how the elements communicate with each other, how they balance as a whole, this process can be meditative for me, it's like finding order in the chaos.
I really like that you described my pieces as using a calming palette, as people have often considered me to be a calming influence as a person, and spending time in nature has always had a calming affect on me, so it's nice to think of my artwork as being a continuation of that and having that affect on others too.
From where do you find yourself taking influence and inspiration?
I collect and gather things from my walks; grasses, lichen, seed pods, shells, pebbles, feathers... I might physically use these in mark-making, printing or making ink, or they might find their way into my work in some abstract form, the shape, colour or texture.
I've always loved the work of the land artists, contemporary artists and sculptors working with nature and landscape, I love the aesthetics of working with natural materials, as well as the ephemeral nature of some of their work.
I also find inspiration in poetry, nature-writing, folklore and music, I'm drawn to things that balance beauty, poetry and darkness. I love the duality of things, nature can be beautiful and terrifying, life is funny and tragic, a person can be wonderful and awful. Firm favourites have been Tove Jansson, Alice Oswald, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes. I make lists of words that I like when reading, these often end up being used as titles for my pieces too.
One aspect to which I am particularly drawn is the presence of natural ink in your work, ink that you make yourself. Please can you explain a little about how you were drawn to this method, and what this process involves?
I became interested in the process of natural dyeing a couple of years ago, I loved the idea of foraging or growing your own colours and physically linking a piece back to a place, time and a part of nature. After experimenting together with my Mum (who also makes plant dyed textiles) we took a course with Jane Meredith in Herefordshire and spent a weekend at her cottage on the beautiful riverbanks of the Wye, picking plants from her garden, dyeing, felting and weaving, surrounded by willows and kingfishers. I was really taken with the process but it took me until the last few months really to turn this knowledge into ink making and work similar processes into my own practice. I also recently discovered the work of Jason Logan of The Toronto Ink Company and his book 'Make Ink' which has been a huge inspiration, and in turn led me to discover lots of other artists creating really beautiful things with natural inks and pigments.
There are a few ways to make ink, but it's hard to go wrong as it's an experimental process. Simply put, you can steep or boil plant matter in water for as long as it takes to get a colour you are happy with, you can use a fixative to help preserve the colour, and if needed, a thickener to create a good texture for drawing or writing. If you are foraging you need to know about what you are handling, if things are poisonous, do your research and remember the golden rules of foraging: if you can't name it, don't pick it and only pick what you need. There are also lots of things you can use to create natural colour which you'll find in your own kitchen - coffee, red cabbage, avocado pits, onion skins, this is a good place to start, and a great way to use waste!
Do you find that there are challenges to working with natural materials?
The blessings can also be a curse, but that's what makes it exciting. Most natural inks are fugitive, which means they will change and fade over time and they can go off, it's part of working with something that is organic. You also have to be aware that if you find a plant that works or makes a colour you really love, it might only be available for a couple of weeks of the year, so you have to be in tune with what is in season or you might miss it! This is all still an ongoing learning process for me but I have always enjoyed that element of serendipity. I love that you don't quite know what you're going to get, and that you might never make the same colour twice.
What can we look forward to seeing from Hannah Clare in the future, and is there a particular direction in which you might like to see your practice develop or take you?
I am excited about spending the forthcoming year exploring natural ink-making and seeing what the seasons bring me. I've just decided to create a series of seasonal prints over the next year so I'm working on that at the moment. I’d love to bring more printmaking elements into my work, so maybe I’ll make than an aim for the next year or so!
What do you do to invite slower, more mindful practice into your life and work?
Spending time outdoors and time by myself is a big part of my creative process and important to me in general, as doing these things also help me to recharge and keep balanced. I've learnt that as an introverted person, I function better in all aspects of my life when I have given myself the time to just walk and think, or sit and write. I live by writing lists and journalling, I have found for a long time that this practice helps me organise my thoughts, focus on what I want to achieve, visualise my ideas and reflect on things I've done or things I've learnt about myself. I also keep a 'good things' list for every month, to take moments to acknowledge little things I have found joy in, my version of the gratitude journal.
Finally, do you have any advice for anyone thinking of trying or revisiting a creative outlet?
Just enjoy the doing, trust your instincts and try not to compare yourself to others. The more you 'do' the more you learn, build momentum and confidence.