A trip to Penclawdd- An Aside


I felt hugely honoured a few weeks ago because my eldest daughter had asked for my opinion on her Art GCSE.  Don’t get me wrong I have freely offered my opinion for years but the difference here is that my beautiful, grown up, clever eldest child ASKED me for it.  Do you see the difference?


I learnt the hard way that whilst each of our opinions matters we should share it with care.  I am sure we have all been on the end of an opinion given freely and felt upset by it.   Well I have learnt over the years to spend more time listening and observing as these are the greater skills in my opinion.  There it is again “in my Opinion” don’t forget an opinion is merely a point of view- a perspective and we have already established how important that it can be in our life and our work but it comes with tremendous responsibilities.


Even though I am aware of this I am still guilty of not listening enough in life because I am too busy “looking”.  I think this is an imbalance that needs adjusting and I feel extremely confident that the benefits will be enormous in everything I do.  I am starting to think that this may be the reason why I struggled to make sense of painting to music and sound as described in a previous post.  I think I am out of touch with listening and very in touch with looking.


Whilst I have no problem listening when I am out in the environment I never make the depiction of those sounds the priority.  Or do I?  Perhaps I just don’t realise that I do it subconsciously since there is so much sound depicted in my big wave paintings, for example.  The subject of big waves crashing against rocks and land have drawn me to them because of the sound and energy that the scene evokes in me but then I come back to my studio and paint the subject with only visual props such as photos and there are no sounds in photographs.  Thus I think I have subconsciously tried to visualise sound through building up and almost re-enacting those sounds in my work.  Hmmm…. I know I may be overthinking this but I think I need to experiment more by painting a scene and appreciating it primarily for the sounds that the scene brought to it.


Whilst I cannot do this directly with the Iceland project it could be hugely beneficial to focus back through my notes, sketchbooks and photos to find the sounds and this I think will take me closer to the scenes I want to depict.



  • Go outside to a favourite spot that has regularly made you want to be creative.  It may be a favourite walk you regularly do that inspires you or simply in your garden.
  • Close your eyes and listen.  Listen for the first dominant sounds you hear.  These may simply be the loudest but not necessarily.
  • Now try to go back deeper in to you listening toolkit.   Breathe slow, relaxing, deep breaths that block out other sensations and noises.
  • Go further and further in to your very own sound system.  If you start to hear only the same dominant sounds get your imaginary feather duster out and spring clean those sounds away as if they are annoying bits of dust.  Now access the new sounds you had missed.
  • I promise you this exercise is worth a go as it will enable you to get closer to the meanings you will in time embed a painting or project with.


I opened this post with a mention of my daughter and her GCSE art project and got side-tracked by the power of listening.  I would like to pick the original topic back up because it provides a helpful working example of how projects can develop.


My daughter had to choose a theme on which to base her GCSE art and the one that appealed most to her was entitled ‘Ordinary Lives’.  The theme invited the student to explore and witness ordinary lives and ordinary activities that over time have been forgotten, overlooked or simply bypassed with time due to industrialisation and so forth.  I listened to her ideas and then shared an experience I had had that very same day.  I had spent the day with a good friend who is an incredible willow weaver.  This person has inspired me and has helped me on numerous occasions when I have been unwell and in need of a therapeutic craft interspersed with friendship.  She has taught me how to weave and prepare willow and so forth and at any opportunity I have helped her with projects primarily because it’s so enriching being part of this natural process that she has mastered to the highest level.


I find that there is something so healing about willow.  It grows quite freely and it has been used as a durable material in the development of numerous industries over time.  It is such a humbling process taking a living plant and working with it to create useful and beautiful traditional baskets etc.  If you ant to find out more about about working with willow visit her website:  www.welshbaskets.co.uk .


The day my daughter was deciding on a theme for her GCSE I had had the privilege of helping my friend trace an old, traditional, cockle picking basket back to it’s roots that very same day and it had been a truly charming process.   I showed my daughter the pictures I had taken and asked if this would be a useful subject to develop under the theme of “Ordinary Lives”.  My daughter had worked herself with willow on numerous occasions and I could see she had already started to think about how she could interpret it this theme and this story.


Yesterday we took a trip together and spent a lovely day in Penclawdd working with a community group led by my friend who would be teaching the process of re-creating a forgotten basket and forgotten skills.  We set off early and I had talked about the trip the night before.  I mentioned to my husband and daughters that I had expected Penclawdd to be more touristy than it was and had almost been disappointed on my first visit.  However, never take one look at something and base everything on that because as soon as we left the M4 and headed in to the Gower, the first thing my daughter noticed was the landscape and how reminiscent of Iceland it was.  She raved about the views and colours and saw beauty everywhere.


As we approached Penclawdd she asked me to stop as ahead she had seen a church spire that she said was just like the ones we had seen in Iceland.  I hadn’t noticed any of these things perhaps because I was driving this time but last time when I was a passenger I hadn’t noticed them either.   On my first visit my friend had asked me to come because she knew the way willow helped me and I had been unwell and so whilst the trip had lifted my spirits as I was introduced to kind, local folk I could see now that my vision had been darkened by this low mood.


Yesterday, it was like seeing the place for the first time but even better seeing it through the eyes of my 15 year old daughter.  From her perspective it was wonderful and this was proving a very powerful lesson.  It was showing me how distorted our perspective can become for all sorts of reason and whilst that’s ok it can be helpful to simply be aware and sometimes notice.  After all, a perspective is a moment in time and not set in stone but something that evolves with our mood and experiences.  I will endeavour to keep that in mind as I develop my own work.


As my daughter looked around to the salt marshes to our left she clicked away on the camera trying to capture the beauty in the landscape that I had not interpreted the time before.  We saw sheep huddled around a deposit of swede and she clicked away at the sheep as they devoured them.  We saw wild horses that were hugely reminiscent of Iceland and she clicked away capturing their intrigue and freedom.  Everywhere I looked I too saw what we saw in Iceland: working villages and towns that were utilising a landscape that was both fruitful and at times hostile.  The salt marshes were almost barren in their beauty yet somewhat emotive in their endlessness.  Furthermore, what we were seeing was only a layer of this landscape’s heritage: the invasive grasses were not present previously as this landscape would have been purely sand and cockles until flood prevention changed this environment and its ecosystem.  We had seen old photographs of the cockle pickers working this landscape so we knew it had history and what a privilege it had been to revisit it through another set of eyes.


We travelled back home later that day enthusing about our trip and I listened as my daughter explored her ideas on how she would like to use the day’s findings in her own work.  I think the most exciting thing being was hearing how she was interpreting this subject.  I had introduced her to something and I had loads of ideas and I kept banging on about those in case she was struggling for ideas but the best was yet to come.


My daughter had simply needed an experience to investigate a concept.  That’s all I needed to offer her as she had come up with some inspired ideas that were personal to her and as I listened to her describe what had excited her I once again witnessed the true value of listening:  When you listen you learn! I learnt from daughter a new perspective and it was one I hadn’t thought about it.   How inspiring it is to learn from others and all you need to do is listen.



  • What have you learnt today from the simple action of listening? 
  • Repeat!


Remember fellow artists listening is an art in itself!  I use this term a lot when developing student’s creativity with The world of Ogs.  I believe if we are not careful it be a lost art.  Its an art that our children need to witness and hence why storytelling is so important in their lives.  Through storytelling children learn to listen.  They learn sentence formations and self expression.


Don’t forget we all have a story we can tell.  In many ways The Ogs are the story of my children and myself growing up.  We can all listen to our children and help them make their stories matter.  Remember listening is not just about hearing it can be simply referring to helping each other be heard.


Thanks to anyone who listens to me.

Francine xxx

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