Dail Behennah: Thinking about the Surface

Blue dish

For in.dialogue I have decided to focus on the paper structure which I developed in my last exhibition, Fieldwork, and which continues to fascinate and challenge me.

In October Jess and I had the wonderful experience of a mark making workshop run by Jilly Morris for just the two of us. It was incredible; fast paced, innovative, informative and above all fun. Jilly is an amazing teacher.

I have only recently begun working with paper and don’t know the first thing about mark making as a form of expression. As a geographer I am used to drawing fine black lines, symbols and diagrams, not covering a large sheet of paper with marks made by a Norwegian fly swat dipped in ink. To music.


It has been 3 months since that day and I have had time to reflect on how I can loosen up and bring a more interesting and subtle surface to my work. I have considered the quality of paper and the various ways in which I can alter it, and the tools I can use to add something to it.

In order to test the things I learned I have made numerous samples, using ink, waxed crayon and graphite on tracing paper.The translucence and crispness of the surface appealed to me, but when a beautifully marked sheet is cut up and plaited it looks horrible, like a garment knitted with space-dyed wool.

As a result of this research process I have had to think hard about what is the most important thing for me – the surface or the structure? I have come to the conclusion that at the moment it is the structure and that any changes I make to the paper will have to be very subtle. I want the play of light and shadow to capture the viewer’s attention from a distance and for the surface to reward inspection at close quarters.

For the two big pieces I have made to date, ‘Spreading from the West’ and ‘Terrain’, I used a white paper embossed with a cord pattern. I scribbled on the sheets with a fat graphite pencil before weaving, to emphasise the lines of the embossing, which in turn demonstrates the direction of each strip woven into the textile.

Dail Behennah (15th October 2014)

A consequence of the day playing and doing exercises is that I am thinking more deeply and noticing my reactions to the processes I am using. I use pencils graded from 1B to 6B, scribbling with the first to come to my hand and discarding each one as the points wear down to the wood. When I run out of pencils I sharpen them all again. I have become attuned to the various grades of hardness and there are differences in texture just after the pencil has been sharpened, and as the exposed lead wears down. A graphite stick doesn’t need sharpening but it makes a different kind of mark; broader and with less variation. It also smudges and rubs off the surface during plaiting.

My arm always moves in the same direction, a diagonal sweep from lower left to upper right, drawing from the shoulder and pivoting at the elbow. Changes can be made by adjusting the angle of the paper on the desk, rather than disrupting the natural movement of my hand and arm.   I try to make this about my body and not about my brain and it is a useful way to loosen up after the concentration and physical strain of plaiting. At the beginning of the day this is an enjoyable and free process, but by the end of the day the marks I make are jerky as I become tired and bored. If I can’t even scribble satisfactorily then it is time to go home.


The scribbled marks catch the light and, although they are random, some sections please me more than others. Sometimes this is where my hand was taken off the paper or at the end of an arc of the pencil. This arbitrary and intuitive marking contrasts with the next step which is carefully drafted and follows the rules demanded by the plaited structure.


A pleasing conjunction to a woman who likes words is that:

graphite comes from the Greek graphein ‘to write’

scribble is the diminutive form scribillare of the Latin scribere  ‘to write’

plait comes from Old French pleit ‘a fold’, from the Latin plicare ‘to fold’.

text and textile both come from the Latin texere ‘to weave’






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