Feature Find: Tracey Kershaw

Tracey with mother bowls image by: Bill Newsinger
Tracey with mother bowls; image credit: Bill Newsinger

Last year in December Tracey Kershaw organised and ran a Critique Group Session at Backlit, an artist community in Nottingham. I had just become an associate member and signed up for the session to get to know some of the other artists, and this is how I first met her.

I came a bit early (with enough time to set up my copy of 346), and was greeted by an energetic woman in overall jeans with blue strands in her black hair. She was busy preparing the event, cooking tea and finding small bits and bops to get everything perfect, but nevertheless when I arrived, she had time, was interested in what piece I brought. Not knowing anyone I had been a nervous about coming there, and she managed to put me at ease immediately and made me feel very welcome. I think, this is her special gift: she made everyone feel welcome and relaxed; her abilities as a host made this a great meeting for everyone. And the more I got to know about her in the months that followed, the more impressed and fascinated I am by this woman and her work: Let me show you some of it!

On that evening when I first met her, she had her “mother bowls”on display. They are cast concrete bowls with text handwritten on them. During the evening at some point I found the peace of mind to read them, and found a wide variety of sentences and statements about “my mother” that seemed hard to reconcile with each other. I was immediately confused and intrigued, especially by some being not positive. Praising one’s mother is widespread (for good reason), and it’s easy to find words for your mother that speak of thanks and close harmonic relationships. It must be much harder to find meaningful words about a mother with whom the relationship was difficult. One especially drew my attention (not exactly like this, but this is what I remember):

“My mother loved me. I know, even though she at times forgot”

So much speaks from such a short sentence.

I only slowly understood that the statements on the bowls are not Tracey’s words about her own mother, but statements which she collected and curated for different projects over the years: She has this performative installation with a wonderful living room lamp, a dark purple plush comfy chair on a worn-out carpet – and a letter box. She invites visitors to sit on the chair, and talk/write/or reminisce about their mothers.

She selects statements from hundreds of handwritten notes that she collected and copies not only the words but also immitates the handwriting – on concrete! And it’s amazing how well she manages to do it. This gives them a whole new layer of personality and adds vibrance. The earthy colours (she uses grey, brownish and black concrete), the handwriting on it, and the cracks and faults of such a bowl in your hands all together give this loose collection of words about women a physical presence in the world. With the help of her bowls, Tracey ties the mess and variety of experiences with mothers together to a universal experience and turns it into a humble, beautiful work of stunning dimension.

Intruiged and – I must admit – a little mystified about her and her work, I began to follow Tracey’s instagram which I want to recommend full-heartedly here. There she documents her work as an artist which includes her finished work and exhibition, as well as sketches, meetings with other artists, and visiting exhibtions – the whole lot.

And next Friday, Tracey herself will have the opportunity to explain a bit more about how she creates work and how she sees her pieces herself when I get a chance to interview her.

(Photos in this post pilfered from various online sources -mostly Tracey’s instagram- and used with kind permission of Tracey.)

New Work,New Bottles, and New Plans

Since my last blogpost I have several works and experiments with paper mache. The fact that it always requires drying time between layers goes well with my often scattered bits of time that I have for making art. On the other hand it also feeds into my tendency to try and do too many different things at the same time. Only time will show which of the myriad things that are resting in half finished states on my worktable will actually end up as finished artwork. And so I decided to just show you some finished pieces for now, rather than a lot of work in progress.

The first piece I want to show you is the “in conversation”, consisting of two paper mache heads and a split scroll, one end of which comes out of each mouth.

Making and drying the hair for the blue haired guy took weeks, the yellow hair only days. – I am learning. The features of both are significantly different, too, as I was experimenting with different techniques to make them.

My table at Backlit’s Open Studios

While I was making the heads, I was also reading up on the difficult topic of human rights, their history, their implementation and implication in international relationships. I believe in human rights, and have become increasingly alarmed by what I think is a misunderstanding of them in public discussion as well as what seems like a decline of their regard in recent years.
I believe that we all have the same basic rights, and that we all have to take the same effort of caring for each other. That being said, after having read and thought about it all for a while, I feel less sure about what to think, and less clear on what I believe human rights encompass than ever before. If you want to follow my path of reading  you could start here. I certainly do not want to lecture on the topic here, I have not read enough, but I also know less than ever before what I really think about it all. I am not happy with all conclusions of the article mentioned above, but I don’t have a good answer either.

Detail of “Sailing”, artwork by H. Kurzke 2018

In any case, the thinking has trickled into my artwork: What the two heads above say to each other, is a list of basic human rights. Each part of the scroll seperately is illegible although it is English, because each letter has been broken up in parts, and only part of each is on the scroll. The text can be read by superimposition. I made it such, because I want to stress how human rights are something that has to come from a comon consensus among us, the humans.

I took the heads with me to Backlit‘s Open Studios where I was given a table to present some of my work as I am an associate member. The two heads drew a lot of attention and discussion. In the photo above you can see another head (the first I tried) which is spitting out an asemic scroll. I really liked the action of the scroll unrolling, and wound it back and forth countless times during the two hours that evening. I am thinking of whether and how to incorporate a small motor in my next trial, which could release and wind back the scroll in a set pattern.

one of my paper mache eggs, fish has been drawn with an engraving tool

The other piece I want to show you has the title “sailing”. I think it is probably further from book art than anything I made before, and I feel a bit insecure about it, to be honest. Itconsists of a paper mache bowl, tugged between paper clay branches that are mounted on a piece of wood. Between the branches paper hangs in tatters, and if you look carefully and know what to look for, you can see that the document had the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom on it. The document that is hanging in shreds there, is the head of the European Communities Act 1972, with which the UK became a member of what was then the EC. I am pretty sure that you wouldn’t be able to tell that it is; it’s hard to verify even after knowing. In the bowl sits a small human figure, wearing a bird’s mask. I wish I had some better photos of it; it’s surprisingly hard to capture well.

Oh, and then of course there are the paper mache eggs. For some of them I layered different coloure paper and then drilled into it was an eletric carving tool. That was rather interesting, and I am currently experimenting with 2D versions of this. If it works out it could result in some interesting book work, I think. I’ll see.

My aim for the next months is to focus more on writing again and hopefully finally finish the first draft on the novel I have been working on for almost two years now. (Hush, hush, I don’t want to say too much yet in case I’ll never finish it.) Those of you who also follow my flaschentiger blog know that I spent a couple of days in Sheffield to write in peace, but I also made and dropped a couple of messages in bottles that week. For one of them I made a minitature book with a pencil closure:

pencil closure of a limp leather binding, demonstrated on a miniature

And while we are at the topic of writing:

Some of you might remember that I ran a “Webfinds Wednesday” feature for a while on this blog, and if my webfind was a person I wrote a Followup-Friday interview. At least that was the idea, I managed to write two interviews before this died down: with Judith Hoffman and with  Nina Kaun. And a few might even remember the days when I was responsible of the interviews for Bookbinding Etsy Street Team (The top three interviews are not by me, you’ll always find the author at the end of a post and I published under the name of buechertiger).

I always enjoyed conducting and writing interviews. Writing a blog article about someone I genuinely find interesting is a great excuse to contact someone out of the blue and ask questions shamelessly. I had been thinking of writing another interview for months, if not years (well, ever since Judith’s), but found it hard to find the time that’s involved. But for those of you who enjoy my features, there’s good news: I have a new feature schedule for the next week, so stay tuned!

Papier Mâché

It started really harmless with a few paper mache miniature kidney bowls that I made for my model hospital room. (In the picture a bit of it can be seen on the table behind my hand.) From there I started making little “pods” and filled them with scrolls and text, which I then put into nests and larger eggs, and by now I am totally obsessed with investigating the medium and technique and see what I can do with it. I have a lot of different ideas, and am working in different directions. Most of what I have now is still just work in progress, play, and a trying out of different techniques. And thus I do not want to show off everything just yet. You can follow my instagram stream, by the way, for – almost – daily images from my workplace. But here’s somewhat of an overview and summary of what I am currently doing and thinking about.

Eggs, Pods, Spheres, and – Libraries

starting with plain spheres

I started using balloons to as a base to put paper strips on. I did that because in the beginning I was interested in making bowls, and I found that both just using the wider end of the baloon and using the whole balloon and cutting the shape open was yielding interesting bowls.

Into these bowls I put “eggs” or “pods”, which are small paper mache shapes that are filled with a scroll.

I hide those in libraries around Nottingham and the Shire. I hide them in libraries because they are places that feel safe to me. The message inside is, in essence, always the same: in many variations and with more or less words, it says: “Don’t be afraid.” Sometimes I add: “It’s o.k. if you are, but don’t let others suffer for it.”

I used a paper shredder and discarted books for some of the paper mache, again, because I think it’s a sympathetic material. The books I have used so far are both math books. – I enjoy the fragments of drawings and formulae that can be seen here or there, and this reference to analytic thinking in combination with the message inside.

some nests and bowls to hide

Over time, the nests turned into closed eggs with a ball with a message inside, and I am working on more versions that are completely closed. They have to be cut open to reveal the text, and I don’t know whether the message ever will be read. I generally like the idea of art that has to be destroyed to be enjoyed. Way back when I met Sarah Bodman for the first time, she showed me a participatory artist book, one where the reader is encouraged to work in and with the material. I asked her whether she did it. And she said, she bought two, and kept one as it is, and worked in the other. – I think that’s a bit like cheating.

drying spheres on a bed of nails

What I like about art that has to be altered/destroyed to be enjoyed is, that it provides a picture for life as such: To live life, you have to give up a bit of it. You have to let go, allow things to change and move. My eggs don’t just have to be changed, you have to destroy them to get to the message inside (although you can repair them if you go about it carefully). For me this is about teasing the viewer: how much curiosity can I build up? But more than that I think it’s a reflection on how humans work: We destroy what we love.

I started a blog with my children that is not really about this project. That blog is about us visiting and discovering libraries in and around Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. But I wouldn’t leave a new library without leaving a gift behind, would I? So if you want to see where these messages are going, and maybe even chase after one of my eggs, pods and bowls, have a look here.


one of the three surfaces where I work on the paper mache

Different paper

Wilbur finds them interesting

These spheres are fairly slow to make. I only ever can put so many layers on top of each other, then they have to dry for a day, and so I am always working on several at the same time. And I sometimes end up using one of them differently than intended when I started it.
Experimenting with different paper came naturally from raiding my paper cut-off stashes, but also from curiosity of exerimenting with layering.

The first trial was with one that I cut open and to use as two bowls: I put on a purple layer first, and then white on top. Afterwards I added some doodles on the inside. – Not really interesting art yet, but pretty.

I am currently experimenting with more layers, used differently, with and without lighting inside… But I have no good results to show off yet, so I might speak more about that in a future blog post, when this investigation has led somewhere.


Of course with my history of making asemic maps before, the temptation to turn one or several of these spheres into globes irresisteble. The process that I use(d) for the first was rather time intensive. – Painting around a sphere isn’t as straight forward as I anticipated. I put on several layers of coffee for major landmarks, then added oceans, depth, writing, cities, and just today some green areas.

fantasy globe

It isn’t completely finished yet, but it is nearing completion, I think.


And of course, while making more and more spheres, the idea to investigate a few other shapes came up naturally. I used a bit of surgery on some spheres so far, and tried a latex glove as a base (I like this one!). I am planning to make some paper pulp paper mache the coming week to use this as a sculpting medium on top of spheres and the like.

I really enjoy investigating this new thing, and have a lot more of ideas of how I want to tie this up with a really old project: ruled worlds. And I have some “fishy” ideas, and, and, and…

I just wished, learning a new technique wouldn’t require so much time and patience. I also have older projects to finish. And because the last one or two years were rather difficult for a variety of reasons, I feel like I should really finish and produce some stuff now, get out there, be seen. But instead of drawing on older ideas and churning out some quick zines, I rather start learning a new thing. Of course…


Fear Manifesto

Fear is a good emotion, it’s life saving. It can help you if you have to make a really quick decision from the pit of your stomach. But if you can afford just a few seconds to ponder, then fear is not a good basis for decisions.

Don’t let fear win – a Challenge

That it isn’t a good basis for a decision doesn’t mean fear is bad, though. Often it’s been said that we shouldn’t let fear win, but to do that you mustn’t ignore it either. So I challenge you (and myself) to an introspection, a form of handwritten meditation:

Step 1: Write down everything you fear.

No-one will read this but you, so be honest. Of some of the things you want to write down you might know from the moment it comes to your mind that it is irrational – write it down anyway. Even if while you are  writing it, while reading it, you know it’s an irrational fear. Others you might know they are soundly based, for others you might not be sure. At this moment it doesn’t matter, let’s list them all.

Have a look at your list. Some fears might be more concrete than others.

I am afraid of pain when I go to the dentist next week

is for example very concrete.

I am afraid of dying

could be vague or very specific depending on your circumstances. Try to spot vague fears, like:

I am afraid of being laughed at.

Can you make these more concrete? Like: When are you likely to be laughed at? Is that a situation that you might fear or even try to avoid? If something like the above turns into

I am afraid of the snarky comments of the girl sitting at the desk across the floor in my office,

then you’ve come a great step forward.

Step 2: Think about consequences of these fear in the past and future if you change nothing

At this point we still don’t care about whether or not a fear might be solidly fact-based and reasonable or irrational, because the fear is real even if the cause is not.

We tend to avoid things and situations that we fear. That’s the function of fear. So have a hard think – this can be harder to spot than you might imagine – what does your fear make you do or avoid?

If your fear of your office mate lets you hide behind your computer and miss out on important career opportunities, then this has a serious impact on your life.
If you can’t shower anymore because if your fear of spiders, then you have a real problem.
Did you stop going out on your own because you are afraid of being alone on the street? – If you are a woman you are probably not alone in this.

Make sure that for all fears you listed in step 1, you also go through step 2. You might have something to add to your list, too.

Step 3: What is the worst that could happen / why do you fear it?

For the first time we now come closer to the question of how rational your fear is. Let’s think about what’s the worst that could happen: So you are afraid of spiders. What exactly do you think will happen? What is the worst that could happen? And is it really that bad? If you are living in the UK, like I am, then all the spiders you’ll encounter are harmless, and nothing bad really can happen.

There might be more fact-based fears that still seem bigger in your head than in reality: What does happen when the girl makes that awful comment about you? Maybe you’ll imagine how hot you’ll get, and everyone will look at you. And then – what?

Play it all in your head, and work out how you would like to react, what you could do to make it maybe a little bit better.

This is now the step where you will really have to do some fact checking and put in some work. You fear that more Urainians could arrive in your country? And then what? They’ll steal your job? – How likely is that? What are you doing for a living? – They’ll talk in the underground and you won’t understand it? – Why do you fear that? (maybe expand your list and start over from top)…

You fear that global warming will result in your house being flooded? Are you living close to water? How likely is that indeed to happen? In what time span?

While I personally do not regularly go through all these steps (I am thinking maybe I should!), I do go through step 3 every time I am a bit worried. When I go on a train trip, for example, I find myself frequently worried I might either board the wrong train or get off at the wrong station. It’s always good to remind myself in that case, that I have a credit card with me, which will allow me to buy another ticket. That the worst case that can happen is that it will take me longer to get home. And if I am stuck anywhere after the last train left, I can always check in to a hotel. – Once I reminded myself, the fear’s gone. (It happened only once to me, by the way, although I traveled a lot by train, and it wasn’t even that bad. I was able to go back one station in the same ticket; so it apparently isn’t even likely to happen.)

Step 4: Are the steps you go through to avoid your fear (step 2) in a justifiable relation to the risks you worked out in step 3?

That’s a very important step. Avoid showering in fear of harmless spiders? – Might not be appropriate. Cancel a mountain climbing trip because of fear of falling – might be a yes.
It’s your call in all cases. You are to judge to whether you want to make this sacrifice. Therefore make sure you spend enough time on fact checking.
For all of which you answered no, you’ll have to carry on to Step 5.

Step 5: What could you do differently, not to avoid the fear but to change the situation

Have a talk with that girl? – That would be hard, for sure, but maybe the best solution in the long run? Or maybe talk to others at the office if talking to the girl herself is no option.

One of your measures might be to think about therapy (if your fear seems irrational and you feel you have to go through great lengths to avoid situations).

Whatever you do and decide, changing perspective and taking on fears is a hard choice, but one that can only pay off in the long run. This is what it means to:

Don’t let fear win!

If you took on my challenge, when you are through with your list you probably have a couple of tasks ahead of you.  I’ll go to work on mine now, and I already know what will be top of that list: quit at least one of the four jobs I am currently doing.

Never let fear win. It wants you to hide and avoid. Instead: evaluate, think, and change.

P.S.: The photos accompaning this post are from a new project about which I don’t want to say too much. Only this: The seeds and eggs I made as part of it, all contain scrolls, and the most recent all have part of this manifesto in them.

Eggshell Panels

As you might have seen in yesterday’s article, I am currently working a lot with egg shells. Mostly I put cut-out panels in front of printed images and like to think they are related to tunnel books.

Working with these, I ended up with a lot of broken eggshells, too. Just to get rid of them, I thought: Why not make an eggshell panel? I remembered vaguely having read a tutorial before, and it was pretty straight forwar: 1) break egg, 2) glue to paper, 3) cover in black, 4) sand the hell out of it.

And since this was just a by-product anyway, and being the person I am, I just set out to make my first panel without looking at any other instructions.

First Panel I ever made; halfway through the sanding process

This first attempt, made a few days after my open studio in beginning of May just totally blew me away, and I have been making loads of them since then. – And I am going to make more, since: How could you better display eggshell-tunnel-books than in a eggshell-panel covered box?!

For the first panel, I really struggled with the sanding. It took me several hours, spread out over two days to sand it to a state where I could reasonably let it be without thinking I had given up. But that was mostly, because I was on my last sheet of sandpaper, and it was a, I don’t remember, maybe an 800. By the time I had finished the first, a new delivery of paper reached me, and along with it, a delicious amoutn of No. 120 paper which really cut sanding significantly shorter. I learned to give the sanded piece a last polish with really fine paper; in the new pack was a No. 8000! I next experimented with colour. For my first gold piece, I also polished the coated panel, and then gave it another gloss coat. And look how it shines and reflects the sunshine:

two eggshell panels in the sunshine

I also did a first box-covering trial and covered a matchbox with the golden eggshell panel:

eggshell covered matchbox

In the meantime of course I read up on the subject. Online the best resource for me was this blogpost by Jana Pullman. It turns out, I am doing a few things a little differently, but all in all the process is pretty straight forward.

So how do I do it? It’s really simple:

  1. Remove inner skin of the egg from the shell. This fine skin (there are at least 2 I believe) keeps even cracked eggshell together, and so we can’t have this.
  2. Glue the eggshell to the paper. I prefer washi for this (some left-overs from my scroll printing). But I tried different papers: When using black paper for the white on black panel, then little left-out spots don’t show. I leave it to you to decide whether that’s an advatage or disadvantage. Press down the pieces firmly. I pulled larger pieces away from each other, but left pieces with hairline cracks lying next to each other. For glue I used my usual bookbinder’s glue.
  3. Cover the whole thing in gesso.
  4. Sand it all off again.
  5. Coat with a gloss varnish.
  6. Use on your next book.

I am going to make a Coptic book from these pages and covers.

I experimented enough with these panels, that I felt confident enough to record a skillshare class about the whole process. So if you want to learn in more detail about the process, head over here: https://skl.sh/2IYEnvn.

The link will carry you to skillshare where you can see the first introductory video of the class. You’ll need to sign up to the plattform to see the whole tutorial, and you’ll have to pay for your membership. But once you paid, you have access to a cornucopia of tutorials, including all my classes, but also everything else on skillshare on a whole range of topics.

If you sign up through the link above, I’ll receive a referal-bonus, and you’ll get the first two months for free (this was the deal when I last checked, offers vary through the year, but it will always be beneficial for you to sign up through a referal link rather than from where you directly access the website), so win-win for both of us. – I hope I’ll see you there!

Oh, before I forget:

If you do mount your eggshell panel onto a book cover, you’ll need to do something more than just glue it down. Even if you sanded your piece a lot, it will still have a substantial thickness, and if you just simply glue it to your cover, it will peel up over time. If you are attaching a rectangular or otherwise very regular piece, then setting it into the cover might be the easiest choice: remove part of the cardboard, and/or part of your leather cover, and inset your eggshell panel.

I had such an irregular shape for my cover above, that I decided to pare down the leather after glueing it on instead:

That was a lot of work, but worked perfectly.

So have fun with this technique!