SLBI & Phytology

Day 2: Ideas from the soil.

The South London Botanical Institute

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Figure 1: The first print I made using the dye I had concocted (see recipe below) and a grass seedhead in the middle. © A.Goodchild 2018

The South London Botanical Institute (SLBI) is a museum of things botanical.  We had an introduction to the institute by the warden who showed us drawings and specimens recorded for posterity in special containers.

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Figure 2: The files of dried botanical specimens stored at the institute. © A.Goodchild 2018


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Figure 3: Examples of the catalogued plant specimens. © A.Goodchild. 2018.

From there we went into the library where the tutors introduced themselves after which the students did the same.  After I had mentioned that I wanted to paint rocks with water-soluble gold paint, referencing the Japans practice of Kintsugi = fixing ceramic with gold, Claire came up with the idea using Lascaux acrylic gold – which I will have to try to get.  because it is water-resistant when dry, I will have to wash it off the rocks pretty quickly after I have photographed it.

We were given several statements and had to write a response on the cards provided.  We then went into the garden and collected 15 specimens which were connected with the statements.

In response to What are the weeds saying to you, I responded:

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Figure 4: The card I made responding to the question: What would a weed say to you? © A.Goodchild 2018

The items were not necessarily from weeds because, unless you know which plant is a weed, any of the plants could have been weeds depending on your definition of one.  The Merriam-Webster definition of a weed is: a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.  In a place like a botanical institute, I suspect that all plants are cultivated and that weeds are, therefore part of the cultivated cannon.

We had to team up with someone and Caroline gave me her card which I put under the microscope and took a photo:

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Figure 5: Parts of a leaf, honesty seed and flower seed which I photographed through the eye-piece of a microscope. © A.Goodchild. 2018

After a bring and share lunch – yet another feast, we were given free time to do what we liked related to what we had heard / seen / done before lunch with the added option of making a dye.

I decided to make a natural dye using a recipe which evolved as I went along:



1 T crushed clay; 1 T ash; a few crumbs (+/- 1t) of something from a compost heap;

3 T water from the wet clay bucket; 6 black rose hips; 4 black seeds from a plant used to make other dyes (found in the garden); 2 drops of a thick fruit cordial concentrate found in the kitchen; 1 t vinegar – I thought this would dissolve something in the plants; 3 fresh raspberries.


I first crushed the hard clay using a pestle and mortar. Then I added the items listed above in the order that they are listed – adding wet and dry ingredients when they were needed.

I loved the colour which emerged.  Melissa suggested that I put some of the dye on a perspex plate and print off it.  This I found very exciting as the outcomes depended on what was on the  plate and on the pressure applied.  There were inconsistencies in the dye with bits of un-crushed elements presenting their own problems to solve.

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Figure 6: The first print I made using the dye I had created using only natural products. © A.Goodchild 2018

When I put this in my notebook to take home, the wet splurges created their own print when I closed the book:

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Figure 7: The print which resulted when I had to pack my wet prints in my notebook because the institute was closing and we had to leave.  This is the negative (?) of the wet print in Fig. 6 which was ‘printed’ in the notebook on the page opposite Fig.6. © A.Goodchild. 2018


These are some of the first prints I took and photographed after I had returned home, so the squashed bits would not have been visible at the institute:

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Figure 8: The first long print. Note that parts of the ingredients which had not been fully ground into the dye have stuck themselves in the print and add concentrated colour elements which would not have been there had they been totally mashed in. © A.Goodchild. 2018.
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Figure 9: A second print taken off the plate off which Fig. 8 was printed.© A.Goodchild.2018.
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Figure 10: A second long splodge of dye created this print. © A.Goodchild.2018.

I was conscious of applying different pressure on the card to create different accents on the card.

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Figure 11: The seedhead placed on the plate on its own after having been soaked in the dye (Fig.1) © A.Goodchild. 2018.
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Figure 12: A round blob of dye pressed in different places. The bits of colour have since faded to grey.  © A.Goodchild. 2018.
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Figure 13: Again, pressure applied in different places to control the process minimally. © A.Goodchild. 2018.
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Figure 14: I have called this ‘Seahorse with a lisp’.  Again, pressure is applied in specific places. © A.Goodchild. 2018.
Figure 15: The ‘negative’ print which appeared opposite the Seahorse in my notebook. © A.Goodchild. 2018.
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Figure 16: A duck-like image resulting from pressure applied in some places and not in others. © A.Goodchild.2018.
Figure 17: The ‘negative’ of Fi. 16 printed in the notebook. © A.Goodchild.


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Figure 18: Uniform pressure applied over the blobs of dye on the perspex plate.  The colours are separating out into the different components indicating that the dye is not stable. © A.Goodchild. 2018.



Overall, I found this the more exciting day of the two.  The content was more focused and the space conducive to interacting with the others.   I loved the creative bit with the dye and subsequent prints and their prints and photographing all the prints when I got home.

How this will relate to my current work, I do not yet know.


10th September, 2018


Yes I do!

I have collected plant and mineral material from outside HMP Dartmoor and have made a dye from that and photographed the outcomes.  I would like to include this as part of my exhibition to reflect ‘a sense of physical place’ .  Fellow OCA SW drawing student, Sue Parr, sent me an article on artist, Cea Blyth, who collects rocks and clay from Princetown, where HMP Dartmoor is located, crushes the rock, adds walnut oil and makes her own pigment.  She states:

“There is a natural affinity between the whole spectrum of earth colours, and this notion of pigments resonating with each other is most evident in my work Dartmoor Rainbow, which is painted with pigments collected only from within the high moor region. Starting with soft white feldspar glinting with quartz, picked up on a track above Postbridge, it is followed by a pinkish clay from an old arsenic mine behind Princetown. Next, sparkling blue-grey micaceous haematite from Kelly mine, near Lustleigh, then a cool creamy clay crumbling off root fibres by the path along the river Dart below Holne.”(2)

I am scheduled to go back to the prison later this month & I shall look for this clay to add to my next dye.  I hope to collect dye material every season that’s left and see if there is a variation in the colours.  I have the summer one as noted here.







Day 1 of ‘Ideas from the Soil’

Environment and study days: Ideas from the soil.

Given my BoW extended project, prison gardens, and my fascination with rocks and plants both of which feature in my project, the ‘objectives bit’  of gaining ‘a personal perspective on ways of responding to the environment’ and ‘ experiment with observation (drawing, writing, photography)’ made sense.  So I signed up.

I set off on the 4 hour train journey to London at 9, arrived late and went straight to the V & A because they had an exhibition which I thought would give me another perspective of what I was going to do for the next 2 days: “Fashioned from nature”.

Friday 27th July was the hottest day on record in London.  Walking into a wall of pea soup made me head for the slightest scrap of shade as I got off the bus and walked to Exhibition Street.  Getting into the V& A was not much better.  I started melting as I got into the exhibition despite the numerous fans everywhere.  A review of the exhibition is here.

I spent Saturday at Phytology in the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve.  The ‘nature reserves’ I am familiar with are the size of a small country and the gates and padlocks to this one did not dispel that preconception.  The size of green on Google maps reinforced the idea.

Shortly after the pre-arranged time the padlocks were unlocked, we were let into this secretive, leafy forest and gradually everyone assembled.  The tutors introduced themselves, we introduced ourselves and the day started.

Michael Smythe, manager (?) of Phytology (=Botany taking its etymological origin from the Greek word for plant) took us on a tour of the medicinal garden my best part of which was the marsh mallow plant leaves – by far the silkiest leaves I have ever touched.  Then we were left to explore the place.

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The Burdock plant is quite prolific on the site:

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The first object we came across was the ‘artist’s hut’

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Very soon I discovered that all the paths which seemed to go in all directions had been very cleverly designed to give the impression of vast space but I was soon met by metal fence bar after metal fence bar.  The space was quite limited but gave the impression of being the opposite.

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What I observed mostly was the bark on the trees:

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They are building a bio-toilet in the reserve as there isn’t one on the property.

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The bring and share lunch was a veritable feast interrupted by Nick Bridge, the resident writer / economist, who spoke about his life and thoughts on it.

We had 30 minutes on observation and recording what we saw around us.  I found a mound / ant hill interesting and wondered what it felt about the experiences around it.  My imaginarium will shed some light on it soon, I suspect.

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We finished at about 4 when everyone dispersed to their various homes.

What did I take away about the work done there?

An attempt to return to a lost knowledge on things agrarian and medicinal.  I’m not sure that it is sustainable.  The project relies on The Wellcome Trust, Arts England and local  funding to survive.  It’s good that these two megalithic organisations have taken an economic interest in the work done here.

What did I take away about me?

I feel in touch with nature but my knowledge about it is microscopic.  I would like to extend my involvement with LandWorks in Dartington .


No light shed yet about how this could inform my SYP – perhaps as I let the day settle down, I might sift something out of what I observed and recorded.