Three Woven Mats - Asante Sana Exhibition, Odense, Denmark 2012 

In January this year I made 3 large twined mats for an exhibition in Odense, Denmark curated by Jette Mellgren in response to a special basket from Uganda. The text below accompanied the work in the exhibition. The work may be seen in my new gallery Asante Sana Gallery and the exhibition catalogue is available online as a free download.

Three Woven Mats made in response to a Ugandan Dragonfly Basket.
Notes on the making process.

It's not everyday that a Ugandan Dragonfly basket arrives in your studio!

A beautifully made openwork vessel twined from stiff grass, the basket is both elegant and perfect in form and function - not that I am so familiar with Dragonfly gathering! In parts of Uganda women working in the fields collect Dragonflies in April and November, place them in these close necked baskets, stuff the opening with a bundle of grass to prevent them from escaping, and when enough have been gathered they are fried up with oil and spices to give a healthy snack similar to shrimps.

As a maker challenged to respond to this basket there are of course many choices to be made and possibilities that could be followed. The basket sat in my studio for several weeks among many others and amidst materials, tools and inspirations waited to 'talk' to me  - for an idea to come of how to start the making process. I looked at the basket and considered the possibilities of making woven dragonflies, of creating translucent wings, of things suspended and with the same airy lightness that the basket and its prey suggest.

However in the end I followed perhaps a more conservative path, to respond to material and technique rather than idea and function. As a basket maker originally trained as an artist this is perhaps a curious response, but one that for me makes complete sense at this moment. 2011 has been a year of great inspiration and many travels for me and at the end of it I have found a greater commitment to the craft of basket making and a resolution to immerse myself further in its many facets that have fascinated me since childhood.

So my response to create a series of three mats using the same making technique and more specifically the 'windmill' start at the base of the basket, as my starting point is the choice that I have made. Using different materials for each mat provided a fascinating insight into the ancient technique of twining and as each material had it’s own very specific qualities I was forced to re-think technique and aesthetic as I progressed. Each mat has it's own distinctive qualities and different details, I am delighted to have been given the chance to take part in this exhibition and learn so much in the process, I hope my fascination and enjoyment of this traditional Ugandan basket is evident in my finished work.

Tim Johnson January 2012


European Basketmaking Summer School, Quay Arts, August 2012

This August I'll be following up last summers successful Basketmaking Summer School at Quay Arts with a four day course gathering inspirations and materials from my travels over the past year or so. I have been lucky to travel recently to Norway, Denmark, Poland and Spain as well as within the UK teaching, making and researching and I hope to bring a little taste of these making traditions to the course. While I've not finalised the exact content yet expect to work with Esparto Grass, Split Chestnut, Hair Moss, Heather, Rush and a wide variety of home grown willows and locally gathered wild materials in a variety of techniques. I will have many baskets from my large collection on hand for inspiration and ideas and of course a good resource of books and a slide show or two.

Places are limited and are already booking up fast so don't delay if you are interested, see you in August I hope! More information and booking here: Summer School.



'The Bottle Project', for the Exhibition 'Linking' at the Nationaal Vlechtmuseum, Noordwolde

Over the past month or so I have been working with Mònica Guilera towards our collaborative piece 'The Bottle Project' to be exhibited in the forthcoming exhibition 'Linking' at the Nationaal Vlechtmuseum in Noordwolde in the Netherlands. This curated exhibition celebrating the centennial anniversary of the museum will bring together work from makers from all over Europe working with woven materials.

'The Bottle Project' was conceived by myself and Mònica as a way of 'Linking' our different approaches to basketmaking rooted in Catalan and English traditions and working in a wide variety of materials creating new combinations and both functional and more sculptural forms. We have wrapped, bound, woven and stitched diverse coverings for a collection of glass and ceramic bottles that will then be exhibited as a group. The exhibition opens on the 14th June and runs on until the 4th November 2012, whilst I don't want to give too much away the following photos give a taster of the making process and an idea of the diversity of techniques. I hope you will enjoy visiting the exhibition!




Catching my breath - catching up!

It's been a busy Spring for me with lots of great projects, travel to Denmark, Spain and the far north of Scotland plus a house move and now a studio move - so now my feet are just about touching the ground and I have a little time to reflect, edit a few pictures for my blog and galleries and make plans for the months ahead. So to get me back in the swing of things here is a brief summary of 2012 so far with further updates and galleries to follow.

In March I worked with my good friend Jan Johansen on the island of Amager, a district of Copenhagen creating a village of woven hazel and willow domes celebrating the Pilforeningen's (Danish Willow Association) 15th anniversary. I've started this projects gallery here: Amager Fælled Project

During April I returned to Castletown in Caithness for the third time, teaching alongside Catalan Basketmaker Mònica Guilera over a couple of weekend workshops, working with locally gathered materials creating a variety of soft rush mats and baskets plus willow and heather frame baskets.

At the end of April I collaborated with artist/maker/sculptor Chris Jenkins creating a large stick installation entitled 'Jetty' as part of Quay Arts 'Piers and Bridges' project. This large structure has now been dismantled and will carry on in it's next phase as part of Chris's large 'tower' installation for Ryde Arts Festival in June. Gallery to follow here: 'Jetty'.

During May I have been attending and demonstrating at Craft Fairs in Asco and Tarragona in Catalonia, Spain, alongside Mònica Guilera. These busy and exciting fairs show a wide variety of crafts and were historically themed for Roman and Medieval periods - yes I was in costume too! The techniques and materials of Spanish basketmaking are very diverse and in Catalonia alone makers can be seen using Esparto Grass, Palm, European Cane, Split Chestnut alongside Willow and several other materials.

Above: part of our display at Tarragona's 'Tarraco Viva' Roman festival,                                                 Below: weaving a Bee Hive with European Cane (Arundo donax) at Asco's Medieval Craft Fair.



East Cowes Community Cart

Today I have been helping my good friend Dan Roberts (of wooden bicycle fame) with his most recent project - a community cart - ideal for picnics, tree planting and beach clean up sessions! Constructed from recycled plywood and my own home grown willow, the cart will soon have it's own wheels - hand made by Dan using his recently built pole-lathe. The making today was part of a Sustainability Road Show in East Cowes Town Hall with a great turn out and many interesting exhibitors and my own daughters Pip and Rosie lending a hand. See the full gallery here: Community Cart


todays basket

During a brief but rewarding scour of the local charity shops this morning not only did i find the most extraordinary stripy tailored suit with a metallic copper silken lining - watch out for that at the next exhibition opening if i dare! - but I also found a very nice shopping basket at the shamefully low price of £2.50. Here it is and I'm curious for any information about it's source. As the basketmakers among you can see it has a continental oval base, neatly slewed sides with flow inwards then out, a nice two bundle rope border and a skein wrapped handle. Quite a combination! Any ideas?



Red Sky, Red Soil, White Grass, Scented Myrtle....

Tonight I was out at dusk in one of my favourite Birch woods...ssshhhh.....not telling where it is....

.....the purpose to gather the last of the season's Purple Moor Grass - left any longer and the leaves become fragile, gathered too early and it's still attached to the plant and is less easy to harvest. As the UK's only deciduous grass it's nice to take advantage of it's leaf dropping properties by gathering simply by running your hands through the tussocks. You can see the gathered grass drying in my studio here: studio blog.

Tonight the wood was full of roosting Rooks worried by my presence and giving me a swift fly by, the sky was red and the shallow stream was brighter than ever with the special Iron fixing bacteria. I've gathered the Iron slime here before and it makes a strong painting pigment - perhaps I should try it for dying my basketry materials?

It's great to see the woodland being managed well to increase the marshy area and encourage many of the special plants that are quite rare on the Isle of Wight. Bog Myrtle, Hair Moss, Ling Heather and various sedges whilst common just over the water in the New Forest struggle to find acidic soil habiats on the island.

Below some pictures from the same spot last November, Bog Myrtle still in leaf and the Moor Grass only just turned and pretty soggy!


Basketmaking workshops on the Isle of Wight

Tomorrow, Saturday 21st January, I'm off to Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight to teach basketmaking - we will be working with willow bark and rush to make little plaited boxes that can be used for all kinds of little jobs around the house. They are fun to make and offer a nice introduction to weaving with these materials and how to do the special 'bias' corner where the base weavers become the side weavers.

Next Sunday, 29th January, I'll be back at the Villa again and we will be working with lovely soft rushes and grasses weaving with the twining technique to make a variety of little rounded baskets and mats.

Details and bookings can be made directly with Brading Roman Villa.



Søre Skogen - days teaching in Norway 2011

Last September I travelled through northern Poland, took a ferry across the Baltic Sea and then drove through Sweden and Norway with my basketmaker friend Mai Hvid Jørgensen to reach Søre Skogen a beautiful farm and teaching place on the west coast of Norway.

Over the following four days I taught a course combining traditional basketmaking skills with the freedom and spontaneity that I have practised for many years in my creative practice. This combination of tradition and innovation provides a healthy and challenging pallette of techniques whilst gathering inspiration from the lush vegetation and natural forms of the surrounding countryside.

Today I have uploaded a new gallery documenting this week showing some of the participants and their work, materials and natural inspirations. During 2012 two more of my courses are planned at Søre Skogen - an outdoor painting and drawing course in May, followed by a basketmaking course in September. Course details, prices and dates will follow over the coming weeks on this blog and on the Søre Skogen website, however to whet your appetite i hope you enjoy the pictures here.


Work in Progress - Asante Sana Exhibition

This week I am making work for Asante Sana, an exhibition in Odense, Denmark, featuring a selection of baskets from Uganda and woven responses made by European makers from Finland, Denmark and England. Curated by Jette Mellgren the exhibition is part of a bigger project in Uganda celebrating and developing traditional basketry and interconnections with Europe.

The European makers featured in the show are: Anna Maria Väätäinen, Dorte Tilma, Anette Holdensen, Susanne Wittingham, Helle Baslund, Jette Mellgren and myself. We have each chosen a Ugandan basket from a large selection purchased by Jette and we are all making our individual and diverse responses. My basket is for collecting Dragonflies! These are gathered during the wet season and supply a valuable source of nutrition - it is a beautiful openwork twined vessel that has some very interesting details. Below is some work in progress as the work evolves and I learn more about it's construction.

Finished work now in my gallery here: Asante Sana Gallery

Twining Iris leaves

Above twined Iris, below Esparto grass.


Off to the woods...

Such a mild autumn and winter this year - it's hard to believe that it has taken so long for leaf fall. Yesterday I took to the bike and went harvesting in the woods for whatever twigs look nice at the moment, I'll leave them for two or three weeks to dry a little then use them for a variety of trays, baskets and 'mountainscapes'. I came back to the studio with Birch, Larch, Willow, Elm and Soft Rush. Sweet Chestnut - thick grey twigs with distinctive lines running down the trunk bark from each bud.

Birch - beautiful reddish brown twigs with many branches.

Hazel - not with frost but with a fine downy covering highlighted by the sun behind.

Larch - fine, flexable and both scaly and knobbly with a yellowish tinge.

Willow - shiny, long and reddish brown with branchesat the tip.

My harvest - from left Birch, Larch, Willow, Elm.


Wayzgoose 2011 - pricing up my galore!!!

We are well under way - getting organised for this Friday and Saturday's Christmas Fair 'Wayzgoose 2011' at JubileeStores. The floor is swept, the Christmas tree is on it's way and I'm pricing up my baskets and paintings - so here's the deal - I'm having a big clear out to make way for my next body of work over the coming months in my 'still feels like new' studio. So baskets will start from as little as £5 and paintings from about £75 upwards - so snap up a deal and as they say 'once there gone there gone!'.

I'll be making all through the event too so if your a budding weaver or just curious come along and I'll happily talk you through what I'm up to, and of course new works will be available straight from the maker's hand! see you there.....


Wayzgoose 2011 on Ventnor Blog

Just an update to say that our Christmas Fair Wayzgoose 2011 is up on Ventnor Blog featuring a gallery of my pictures from last year....see you there!

See the Ventnor Blog article here......Wayzgoose 2011


Wayzgoose 2011

Following last years successful christmas fair at Jubilee Studios, Wayzgoose 2010, we are now preparing for Wayzgoose 2011. All our studios will be open to the public alongside a selection of some of the best artists and makers on the Isle of Wight displaying their work throughout the jewellery and general workshop. Look out for updates on our dedicated facebook page.

I will be presenting a selection of recent work alongside a special sale of work made over the last couple of years - be sure to come early to snap up a bargain as I'm having a good clear out to make room for forthcoming projects! If you want a sneak preview be sure to keep an eye on this blog and you can see my studio work in progress on my dedicated Studio Photoblog.





This week I have been working with pupils from Greenmount Primary School on the Isle of Wight creating a new installation in response to Katayoun Dowlatshahi's exhibition 'Orbit'. The show explores the history of the Isle of Wight's involvement in the UK's space programme in the 1950's and 60's as a rocket development and testing site.

'Vincent' is a satellite invented and created by 30 6 year old pupils and will be orbiting Quay Arts Learning Curve Gallery surrounded by a galaxy of hand made woven stars till the 7th January.

Picture gallery here: Satellite Vincent


It's a fine line....Studio Quay

This autumn students from a variety of the Islands High Schools have been coming to weekly Thursday afternoon sessions at Quay Arts, lead by the different members of our Education Team the series of workshops has been exploring drawing practice in all it's diversity. Last week I lead the session exploring a more three dimensional approach - using a thread, string or twig as a line ready for manipulation and composition. Next week we take the line off the paper to make 3D drawings in space.


Work in Progress - artists, education and participation

Today I am on my way to present recent work at the engage International Conference at Turner Contemporary, Margate. Alongside my Quay Arts Education team colleague Chris Jenkins we will be presenting our work over the last year with pupils from the Island's two short stay schools and the processes involved leading up to exhibitions in Quay Art's Learning Curve Gallery.


Fly Agaric ( Amanita muscaria)

Great show of Fly Agarics in Parkhurst today - late in the season I think but no frosts yet so the fungi keeps coming. At least 20 plus Agarics in one patch amongst the Birch trees.


Magpie Fungus (Coprinus picaceus)

A couple of shots of an unusual fungus I spotted while waiting at the bus stop last night on the Isle of Wight. Apparently it is quite uncommon - frequenting Beech forests - however in this case it looks like it has been imported with wood chip mulch onto a roadside flower bed.

These pics were taken in the dark with only street lights for illumination - not perfect though the camera has done quite a good job considering! Handheld at 1/15th second, f1.4, 1600 ASA.


Primrose Hill Artist's Disguised Halloween Procession

The event on Sunday was a great success with no rain and not too chilly - I was running around chasing folks and making as much noise as I could with my collection of sheep, goat and cow bells - so I kept nice and hot inside my cone shaped costume. I made him - (still without a name - any ideas?) - last year while I was Artist in Residence with the Sainsbury Centre and this is only the second time he has been out to perform. It always fascinates me how the costumes take on their own character and I seem to have little to do with how they behave! There were some amazing costumes in the procession and we provided quite a spectacle parading through London's streets on the way to Primrose Hill. Full gallery here.

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