I have worked on environmental issues in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire for more than 20 years and become increasingly fascinated in how geography and geology shape an area physically and socially. In that time fish, including salmon, have returned to the river Don, while the steel and coal industries have declined. The industries made possible by the local coal and ironstone, and the energy of the swift flowing rivers.
Water leaching through abandoned coal workings can carry high concentrations of iron, when it reaches the surface it is oxidised and deposited on the bed of streams as iron oxide – ochre. I have worked on projects to treat the mine drainage before it is deposited in the rivers, where it would coat the bed and kill the invertebrate life which lives there. The thick ochrous sludge with its vivid colour fascinated me and I began making use of it in drawings.
The ochre varies in colour from light orangey yellow to darker rusty browns depending on the source. To obtain different colours I’ve collected samples of ochre from various mines, spoil heaps and from moorland bogs, where it is naturally leached out.
In my current work I use the ochre (Iron oxide) only with charcoal (carbon) and chalk (calcium carbonate), to explore the range of effects which can be created with a limited pallet, but also as these are essential components in steel making, to return to the theme of geology shaping landscape and society.