Skim Sky Blue

My exhibition about the river Thames, Skim Sky Blue, is now open at The Art Cabin and runs until May 18th. Details on how to visit are here (it’s all part of Wandsworth Arts Festival Fringe). I’ve been asked by a couple of people who live too far away to come and see it if I’ll post pictures, so here is selection of some of them. The works are mostly woodcuts with chine collé, and some with additional collage added after printing. I used all sorts of materials for this, from old maps to prepared sheets using both oil and watercolour paint. I had a lovely discussion with Japanese visitor who came into the gallery about the particular shade of deep, clotted blood-red that you can see in the circle on the ‘eels in a tyre’ picture – apparently this is a colour of deep significance in Japan.

Here’s my exhibition statement: read to the bottom to find out how it got its name…

“Skim Sky Blue is inspired in part by woodcut artist Robert Gibbings’ 1940 book ‘Sweet Thames Run Softly’, in which the author built his own boat then paddled down the river Thames from Lechlade in Gloucestershire all the way into central London, sketching and observing along the way. The beautiful woodcuts in the book celebrate the small details of river life, from the curl of a leaf to the dart of a dragonfly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA “Building on a lifetime’s connection with the river Thames, illustrator Jane Porter has explored every mile of the river, from walking to its source under a pile of stones in a buttercup-filled Gloucestershire meadow to the silvery sculpture of the Thames Barrier and the tidal mudflats to its east. She has swum some sections, and has rowed in a traditional Thames skiff from Lechlade 120 miles back to Teddington, as well as skiffing past central London’s landmarks in the Great River Race. She has even built her own coracle and paddled it on the Wandle and a quiet backwater of the Thames.

“The woodcuts in this exhibition tell stories about different sections of the river – the quirky Easter Island-inspired topiary patrolled by hens at Radcot Lock, the cormorants proudly occupying their tree at Stephens Eyot near Kingston, the abandoned structure out past the oystercatchers near Erith, scented by the sewage works.

Easter Island Topiary at Radcot Lock: woodcut and collage from Skim Sky Blue exhibition

As a volunteer for both Thames 21 and the Wandle Trust, Jane is involved in monitoring the health of the Thames and has been hauling tyres and other rubbish out of the river Wandle for ten years – eels are a regular sight in this Thames tributary and have an astonishingly tight grip as you pick them up to return them to the water.

River Wandle - stronghold of the eels: woodcut and collage from Skim Sky Blue exhibition


The woodcut medium gives the work a very tactile quality: the gloss of the oil-based inks and the slight embossing from the force of the press – even the slight flaws where the wood has splintered – are a refreshing antidote to digitally created or printed pieces. Jane has used chine collé to give graphic highlights and splashes of colour or texture to the prints – using for collage pre-prepared watercolour washes, some even created with mud from the Thames itself.

The exhibition’s title, ‘Skim Sky Blue’ is taken from Charles Dickens – it’s how he described a glass of Thames water when offered one in 1850 on a visit to the Kew Bridge Pumping Station.”

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