This autumn our friends at Surfers Against Sewage have been busier than ever with a twin-pronged attack on the plastic pollution that blights our beaches.
In mid September their Message in a Bottle campaign, in partnership with 38 Degrees and the Marine Conservation Society, culminated in SAS delivering over a quarter of a million signatures to 10 Downing Street to call for action on ocean plastic pollution with a UK-wide deposit return system. A public consultation was opened by the Secretary of State for the Environment and will run through until October 30th, and SAS CEO Hugo Tagholm gave evidence in support of a Deposit return System (DRS) to the Environmental Audit Committee at the Houses of Parliament last week.
“We welcome the government's announcement to gather evidence to support the introduction of a deposit return system in England. We believe that it's no longer a question of if deposit systems work, but rather which model will work for England, and the rest of the UK. There is irrefutable evidence that DRS is good for resource efficiency, recycling and protecting our marine environment from plastic pollution. Society’s plastic addiction has reached crisis point and we need to fast-track proven and effective systems including deposit returns to protect our oceans and beaches from the scourge of plastic pollution. The time for deposit returns in now.”
Hugo Tagholm, CEO, Surfers Against Sewage
With an almost unbelievable 38.5 million plastic bottles being used in the UK every single day and only a little over half of them finding their way into recycling schemes, the scale of the problem is enormous. A scheme such as a DRS is clearly required, and hopefully would have a similar impact as the plastic ban charge.
In the meantime though, plastic continues to enter and persist in the marine environment. This is where we can all do our bit (above and beyond signing a petition), by getting out and joining one of Surfer’s Against Sewage’s Autumn Beach Clean events during the last week of October (half term), and by simply picking up litter that we find on the beach as we walk back after a surf. SAS have run 183 beach cleans so far this year, removing 10,967kg of plastic litter from the shoreline.
To find an upcoming beach clean near you, head to www.sas.org.uk and click In Your Region in the top menu to select your area from the drop-down menu. This will bring up an interactive map that you can filter to show upcoming events, or scroll down to see a list of beach clean locations and dates. Every little helps, and it’s a great way to spend an hour on the sand giving back to the environment that we all enjoy so much. In the words of Hugo Tagholm:
"Do something good for the spot you love"
Creating anything with an organic material such as wood is both challenging and hugely rewarding, particularly if your aim is to work with and show off wood as a medium rather than hide it. Woodblocks have been used in printmaking for millennia, with the earliest surviving example originating from China and dating back to 220AD. Ordinarily a carved wooden block is used to repeatedly print onto paper or cloth, with the woodblock itself seldom celebrated, and in modern printmaking wood has long-since been replaced by more easily worked materials such as lino. We recently discovered a Cornish artist though whose one-off pieces are the woodblocks themselves, and who turns to the sea for much of his inspiration. We were full of questions, so caught up with him to find out more about how he makes his wooden works of art. Meet woodcut artist Robbie Jones:
A question that people often ask of us regarding our surfboards is, ‘Why Wood?” and I guess that you must also get asked the same thing. What led you to creating your art on the medium of wood, and why do you continue to use it?
Before I was making woodcuts I was drawing in a way that resembled traditional woodcuts, and after some research I decided to try it out for myself. I love seeing other printmaker’s wood blocks after they’ve printed with them and see them as the artwork instead of the print. All the work that went into that woodblock is sometimes cast aside in favour of the prints, whereas I prefer it in its original natural form. I’ve always loved the organic properties of wood and transforming something from nature into a piece of art.
How does the organic nature of the wood that you use, the patterns of grain and knots, affect your work?
Working with a medium like wood that can have a lot of imperfections does make it more of challenge, but I love all the characteristics that the different grains and knots add. Sometimes I’ll have to change the designs slightly to work around and incorporate the knots into the artwork. I try to utilise the grain of the wood as a textured background pattern to add depth to my woodcuts.
What timbers do you use, and do you have to be selective in what you use so as to avoid features such as knots?
I first started using pine as it was easy to come by and it was good for practicing whilst I was getting used to working with wood. Later on I found an old book filled with woodcutting methods. It suggested using birch plywood as it carves smoothly and wasn’t full of knots. Also a huge factor in using birch plywood is that I’m able to cut it into any shape or size so almost any idea is possible.
What is the process behind one of your works?
I always start with a rough sketch in my notebook and then develop the design further until I’m happy. After that I’ll re-draw it to a scale and apply the stencil onto a sheet of birch plywood. Then I’ll cut out the shape with a jigsaw, sand it all down and apply a layer of paint. Once all that’s dry, I’ll re apply the stencil and begin to carve out all the lines. Finally I’ll tidy everything up and apply a layer of varnish to protect the wood. It's a fairly lengthy process, but it’s always a satisfying feeling seeing the final product.
How did you learn and develop these techniques?
Using pen and ink drawings I had, it was mainly trial and error to transform them into woodcuts, playing around with different styles and methods. Finding out which gouges worked the best with different types of woods until I found a style that suited me the most.
What tools do you use?
I use a hand jigsaw and mini palm gouges for carving, much like the ones you’d use for lino cutting.
So they’re part sculpture, part print? In that you use print-making techniques, but that the printing block is the final artwork, and therefore each one is a true one-off?
Yeah that’s pretty spot on, I use print making methods to create the woodcut but never actually print with it. I love making each piece unique. Sometimes I get people asking me to make the same piece again but that gives me some freedom to make something similar but with lots of little changes to keep each piece unique.
Much of your work looks to be inspired by traditional tattoo art and Americana. It was your nautical themed work for the Cruel and Curious Sea exhibition here in Cornwall that caught our eye, though. From where did you draw your inspiration for those pieces?
For the various Cruel and Curious exhibitions that I’ve been a part of I took a lot of inspiration from old photographs of sailors, focusing on their traditional tattoos and the meanings behind them, and brought it together with sea stories and folk tales such as ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and ‘Moby Dick’ which were huge inspirations for some of my woodcuts.
How does living and working in Cornwall influence your work?
Growing up and living in Cornwall has always been a massive influence on my work. Creating different landscapes inspired by the rugged coastline and stormy seas. It’s always nice when you’re feeling a lack of inspiration to just be able to go to the coast or into the woods and come back full of ideas.
Last weekend, we held our Annual Gathering of Makers. It's a special occasion for us, when we invite all of the makers who have joined us over the past few years to craft their own wooden surfboard back to spend a weekend together surfing, making new friends over shared experiences, enjoying good food and having a few beers. We gather at Dunkirk Farm, where James made his first few wooden surfboards just a mile or so from the site of our current workshop, as guests of our friends Jez and Ange. This year our community of wooden surfboard makers were treated to a morning of offshore waves, a fantastic feast cooked over fire by our friends from Woodfired Canteen, and an evening of very special live music from Jack Bessant and The Cheddar Experiment. Words struggle to do the weekend justice, so we have right here a gallery of photos. To all of the wooden surfboard makers who made it along to join us this year, thank you for coming and we hope you enjoyed yourselves. Thanks also to Woodfired Canteen, Jack and the band for coming together on the night to entertain us, and to Jez, Ange, Si and Vicky for welcoming us back to the farm once again. We only wish every weekend could be an AGM weekend!