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Turkish Sweet Gum project

Turkish Sweet Gum project, 2016

A collaboration between the Society of Wildlife Artists & Doğa Koruma Merkezi (Turkish conservation NGO) DKM

I was one of four Artists in Residence in Koycegiz SW-Turkey (Mugla province) for one week in June, with the aim to teach and work alongside 20 Turkish art students and 4 professional Turkish artists and scientists. Sharing my experience, methods and practises in the hope to raise awareness of these rare Sweet Gum Forests through art.

Photographs by Cengiz Tapan, click on the photograph to the right to see other images and continue.

Day 1

Lumpy bumpy ride after an hour wait due to a storm topside. The plane was a moped for a short while then we evened out to normal sights and sounds.

From the airport at a cool 21 degrees we hear crickets, not a constant sound but familiar and peaceful. The Flora hotel is on the edge of town. We're greeted by our Turkish team and after leaving our bags in our rooms it’s beer and meatballs with pasta. I have two portions, a real munch on. Greg is engrossed in an array of field guides, Ben is smoking rollups and I am troughing. Our first evening passes calmly and quietly. All is good.

A green gecko is on the wall by the outside light, catching dazzled bugs and I’ve found a radio channel playing the viola and violin. Sleep time.

Day 2 and I woke to sounds of sparrows. Brilliant!

We visited the base camp and were introduced to our students today, most are in higher level education and will have their own ideas. This will be interesting.

I carried far too much (as usual) around the Sweet Gum forest. The trees less gnarled and colourful than I expected and with late afternoon light the scarring of the cropped trees bring to mind distorted face shapes, mouths glued gape? Scooby style.

Lots of mammal tracks along a mud track, narrow streams, one wide. Soft Mare Tail broom a foot high and in other areas taller. The Mare Tail gives the illusion of a soft green mist from which the trees rise. Dragons and Damsels, small brown butterflies. Lizards scatter to the left then right. Of all birds a Chaffinch! And then a Wren. I can hear a woodpecker, the sound not unlike green. A frog grouses followed by a matched chorus. Then silence, our brushes making marks. Three hours pass quickly and we return to the hotel.

Sparrows dust bathing… dare I?

Day 3 a crab passed by us, how did a crab happen to pass by? I'd have missed him, defensively strolling by and gone. Crazy!

The gum tree bark is stripped down a layer then two, sometimes people take advantage and more is taken than is sustainable. A five year return is advised but annual becomes the norm and is very destructive… The first crop is pure, the second is tainted by the bark and needs a separation process. Men stay in huts in the forest grounds, separating oil from bark and then stored safe. Little snippets of information I recall…

Day 4 has passed with 7 snakes hunting in the river, a peculiar feeling, stay on the far side please! Dice snake and harmless, though in my identification they became venomous and now I look in the guide they only exist on the borders of Syria!

The students have run with great energy all week. If anything, frustrated with limited time in each place, they are hungry for more. Brain fry block happened late into the afternoon yesterday so I introduced an exercise of 5 minute paintings over a 30 minute period which they embraced with incredible results : ) lovely to see and an unexpected release for them. With no time to think about all our advice they flourished having learned much already.

Day 5

The forest smells of oil, a peculiar smell to this sweetgum area. Some oil dripped from a tree into the hair of one of the students’ yesterday evening. Mare’s tail is a strong spikey looking stem with brush. On mass its soft understory is flummoxing me. How do I get the sense of weightlessness? Paint and erase with a cloth? The trunk of the gum tree rising strong from this fluffy nothing? How?

A blue hue to the greens and then rich spring greens saturated in yellow overlapped shadow green and middle Nigeria t-shirt green. The evening light reflects white light? How, there is no water? Is there moisture from the air? Ants, but not too many, tiny on the bedside table, medium in the woodland and grotesque red and black up in the mountains. Large head and abdomen push me pull you.

The sweet gum forest is now a familiar place, a comfortable place and I look forward to producing my own work from tomorrow.

This afternoon began with preparatory printmaking on paper using cut paper, biro and ink to create a simple relief print. The plan is for a public event this evening, an exhibition of the work produced by our students over the last 5 days and a couple of the guys teaching locals how to do basic relief printmaking. The outcome to be shown in a planned, framed exhibition until September.

It was hot late afternoon into the evening, a warm breeze, aching feet, printmaking table buzzing, conversations with the DKM designer, a local artist with exquisite measured continuous line, energy and enthusiasm. Ending at 11pm followed by a circle of thoughts, feelings, and feedback until just after one and more discussion, students coming over to talk overlap and constant. I ran away at 2.30am exhausted.

Esther Tyson's artwork