"Nature is my fascination and my fear. I love its genius, and beauty but fear the increasing unbalances that we cause," says Deborah Bird. Deborah has worked extensively with paper sculpture integrated with ice for five years and this now forms the basis of her practice. Her work has taken her to the United States where she uses her process to explore notions of erosion and climate change.
Deborah Bird's work has evolved through many art forms inspired by seasonal shifts and organic structures in the countryside, from graphic design, interior design and fine art, arriving currently as a multi-media artist, and ‘accidental’ photographer.
She has taken up residencies in Grand Canyon National Park Arizona and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. She also undertakes public artwork commissions, works as an occasional consultant for City and Guilds and does some teaching at Rutland Adult Learning.
A DAY IN YOUR LIFE
Tell us about what you do
Deborah Bird, Llao, ice work, Crater Lake National Park, Or, USA
I research and prepare intricate paper structures that are set into ice and used for photographic intervention. These works are recorded out on location through all of the stages of melt, increasing transparency, and eventual collapse. The location affect the colours captured in the ice, and the changing light quality.
Deborah Bird, Phantom, ice work, Crater Lake NP, Or, USA
Images are selected and cropped, but are generally un-manipulated,so that the final works remain an accurate account of the work out on location.
Exhibitions of my work consist of ice/paper photographs, mixed media sketches, large scale paper sculpture and residency diaries.
What does a typical day as an artist look like for you?
It usually starts with an early walk in the countryside with my sketch book and camera. Then back to the studio for a fresh coffee, a think, and experimental works on paper. Another day I might prepare paper sculptures to freeze.
Deborah Bird, location sketchbooks
On days when it’s not windy, I’ll take the ice works out on location packed up in my cool bag to photograph them in different locations using a specially adapted tripod. My worst days will be spent uploading images, sorting through, editing and selecting work for my portfolio (I wish I had a mini-me for this task).
I’m constantly wrestling with materials and thinking of new work. Currently I’m doing studies in mixed media of the farm buildings nestled in the Wreake Valley. I am working and evolving the same views over and over, thinking about colour and technique. It’s how I originally developed my ice and paper sculpture work.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Deborah Bird on location at Crater Lake National Park, Or, USA
The way it opens up your mind to the world. The icing on the cake so far has been two Residencies in US National Parks in the Grand Canyon, Arizona and Crater Lake, Oregon.
Deborah Bird, Temple Butte, ice work
What is the most challenging part of your work?
Remaining focused and disciplined can be difficult and I am often hampered by ideas that require kit that I simply don’t have. I would like to take my work towards print, but in order to evolve the work I need a sustained period in a print making workshop. Another MA would be good, with time to fully explore solar plates, photo etching, lithography and other techniques where I can use light-sensitive mediums in conjunction with the ice.
What skills are essential to you?
Location based research, drawing, colour studies in mixed media, experimentation, paper manipulation, ice sculpture, photography and digital processing. Usually in that order.
Also time management, curation and digital marketing.
Deborah Bird, Agave, ice and paper composition. The pink colours in the ice are from the canyon sunset
How did you choose your current theme, if you have one?
Countryside, rhythm and pattern in nature, shifting seasons, particularly the stripped-back features of winter. My theme chose me, to be fair. I’ve always been inspired by nature and my relationship with the local environment is closely linked to my process.
Nature is my fascination and my fear. I love its genius, and beauty but fear the increasing unbalances that we cause.
Deborah Bird, Pear Tree, ice & paper photographed in the studio orchard
How did you get to where you are now?
Via a Foundation Studies at Loughborough College of Art, a Graphic Design Degree at Bath Academy of Art a Masters in Fine Art at DMU and lots of practice in between. During the early days I worked in art direction and advertising. In my thirties I shifted to education and interiors work whilst my babies were small. The fine art phase didn't start until I reached my forties, although creativity has been a constant thread ever since I can remember.
What were your best subjects at school? What and where did you study?
My best subject at Wreake Valley Comprehensive was always art, nothing else mattered. But then I had a spectacular young teacher called Geoff Beasley who cycled into school covered in paint, and inspired us. I remember him taking us to London to see his first work in the Royal Academy Summer Show, it must have been 1976ish.
Deborah Bird on location at Grand Canyon National Park, Ar, USA
What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
My solo hike down into the Grand Canyon was certainly my most rewarding challenge. My challenges are always about how to make my mark and keep motivated.
What’s the proudest moment of your artistic career so far?
2012 Grand Canyon Residency and Exhibition. I’ve never quite recovered.
I was long-listed from 3,000 entries in the Saatchi ‘Art of Giving’ exhibition in 2011 making it to the penultimate 30, but was pipped for the final 10.
Do you have any regrets?
I've always laughed too loud and maybe some of my fashion choices in the 80’s were suspect, but in the grand scheme of things - no regrets - life’s too short!
What advice would give your 22-year-old-self?
Go and live abroad for a year.
Visit exhibitions and find out more about the world of art.
Don’t worry about the big things that you have no power to change.
Your career will evolve through many art forms, enjoy the journey. However your children will be your most joyful creation.
Keep a diary.
EITHER/OR . . .
Coffee or tea? Coffee
I love my first cup of fresh coffee as I go into the studio, it kick starts my day.
Michelangelo or Picasso?
Picasso - for his talent, passion, wicked humour, naughtiness and belligerence.
Mac or PC?
I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with my MAC and a collection of addictive Apple devices which have kept me afloat in the digital ocean, as much of my work over the years has involved digital processing. I have introduced ‘digital detox’ Saturdays after making a new year’s resolution to ‘spend less time on the computer’ and take new look at my creative processes.
Morning or night ?
I used to be a night owl, but these days I love to get up early and head out into the countryside with my camera, usually after a tip off from my husband who leaves at ridiculous o’clocks.
Deborah Bird, Foloise, ice and orange painted paper paper, based on lichen form
Led Zeppelin... everything!
Trampled Underfoot. Happy days. I love the rhythms of this song. Reminds me of art college, an Old Grey Whistle Test film, and later it became a loud ‘driving home anthem' after a good night out with my husband and our children.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. A beautiful story of loves, lives and the rhythms of nature.
Deborah Bird, Enclose, ice & black paper
Claude Monet - I have visited the Orangery in Paris many times to immerse myself in Monet’s Water Lily paintings; I always experience a huge sense of joy and euphoria.
Bill Viola - for his powerful depiction of humanity through film
Andy Goldsworthy – for relationships with nature, ephemera, and his sheer genius with natural materials out on location (including ice!)
Things to do on a Friday night
Go to the pub! And laugh
Tresco in the Scilly Isles. I fantasized about the place for years and finally got to visit in 2013 with my husband for our 25th wedding anniversary. It is indeed a beautiful place with no traffic, a string idyllic beaches surrounded by an aquamarine sea. The stars at night are worth the trip alone. Tresco’s gardens are like paradise and the island quietly rocks during the beer and music festival.
Piece of advice you’ve been given
Develop a visual style and a technique that can be recognised as yours. (Henrietta Corbett)
A Quick Draw
Short film (01:46 mins) short lapse film of 45 minutes portrait drawing in Conte stick.
Deborah Bird at the preview of the exhibition at Cank Street Gallery on Thursday 6 June 2015.
Photograph: Kay Emblen-Perry
Sharon Walker 13 July 2016
Thank you for this innovative and informative interview. I was trying to find some information about the adult painting classes I believe you might be taking in Rutland. After reading this I suspect they might well be full!
Christopher Bent 4 June 2015
Fascinating work. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us Deborah.
Enjoyed meeting you and seeing the work at the Cank Street Gallery, Preview.