Materials Love Letters From You

17 March 2021

Materials Love Letters From You

Following on from our Valentines-themed celebration of materials last month we wanted to share a selection of love letters sent by you, our wonderful community of materials experts and enthusiasts.

In this blog post, foundry artist Steve deposits his delicate haiku about sand, Nick praises the beauty, strength and sustainability of that ‘monarch of materials’ wood (despite its propensity to give splinters), and Sabine shares her far-reaching love for and knowledge of pigments such as ochre, smalt and dragon’s blood.

As a bonus, we’ve also included a link to a short film by our Director Martin, whose beautiful and sticky exploration of marmalade-in-the-making boils over with adoration for oranges, stainless steel, waxed paper and more.

Sand by Steve Coles

Sandy foundry work
A shoreline fills your pockets
Each mould a vessel

Wood by Nick Cliffe

I love wood. Wood is the most important material we have. Wood gave us fire, paper, steel (via charcoal), flight and furniture to name but five.

Wood is inherently sustainable, it literally grows on (as?) trees. Whenever you use something made of wood, or make something to use from wood, you are using something made from carbon dioxide drawn from the atmosphere. Forests and trees are vital to slow and mitigate the damage we have done to our planet (sadly driven by that whole steel/charcoal thing I mentioned earlier).

Wood is also by far the best material to work and make with. We’ve been honing our tools (pun intended), knowledges and skills for working with wood for millennia. Look at a tall ship, or a 1000 year old Japanese temple and you can see beauty, strength, function and form.

Wood can drive you crazy, it will move with the seasons, it will split and tears out for no reason, it can be the most unforgiving of materials. But when a freshly sharpened plane takes a perfect shaving, or a finely cut dovetail slides into place, or the first coat of oil raises the grain it makes it all worthwhile. You can spend a lifetime working with wood and still be learning about it as a material.

Wood is the Monarch of materials.

(I could do without the splinters though.)


Pigments by Sabine Pinon

Sabine has been working in the archives of world-famous art materials emporium L.Cornelissen & Son, helping them sort out hundreds of years of archived pigments. All the while Sabine has been getting to know, keeping company with, and coming to care for these pigments as you would a loved one. Sabine’s beautiful written and visual love letter to 88 pigments, submitted as her final presentation for Term 1 of her MA Art & Material Histories course at City & Guilds London, is too extensive to publish fully here, but please go and enjoy it in its entirety on her blog.

To give you a snapshot, Sabine’s post documents her experiences of the visual delights, smells and textures of smalt, Indian yellow, emerald green and burnt terre verte. She describes the reluctance of pigments like dragon’s blood and the ease of lead white to be mixed with binders to become paint. This wonderful post also covers themes such as the somewhat artificial (ha!) distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic’ pigments and the often harmful effects of our ruthless quest for colours (famines, slavery, toxicity). Check out Sabine's glorious ode to colour now!

Images of Indian yellow, red ochre and cinnabar courtesy of Sabine Pinon

Marmalade by Martin Conreen

And last but not least, this beautiful and sensory short film about marmalade-in-the-making, made by our Director Martin Conreen and recently published on Laura White’s Tenderfoot blog, is a visual and visceral love letter to material engagement with oranges, waxed paper, stickiness, steel, glass, liquids, gases, sugar, toast and more.


Stills from Martin Conreen's Marmalade