Blog and cob

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This blog has been a long time coming. I have finally got some time to let you know what has been going on in the world of Emma Parkins. 2021 has been a very busy year, with some lovely Willow commissions to work on, a few on a very large scale.

However, the highlight, so far, is being awarded a “Developing your creative Practice” grant by the Arts council England.

I applied for this grant early this year, with a project proposal that I have wanted to work on for some time. I was very excited to receive this, as it is a sought after pot of money. So, what will I do I hear you ask?

My proposal was to learn the craft of cob and straw building and use this technique to experiment with on my willow sculptures. The intension was to see if it is possible to prolong the life of them in an eco way, without the use of chemicals. The materials would be sourced locally and by hand, as much as possible. Then I get the chance to play with this new material for a few months and connect it with the willow.

Part of the grant involved going on a course to learn how to make a cob mixture and build with it, and that is what I did…

June 27th-2nd July…The Cob Course

My adventure began as I took the train to beautiful Devon. I stayed in a shepherd’s hut, which would be my peaceful base for 5 days.

On 28th June I joined 13 other fascinating folk, down in Lyme Regis, to attend a ‘Kate Edwards’ building course.

Kate is a renowned Cob and straw expert and has built and renovated many cob buildings all over the world. She has immense knowledge and skill and conveyed this in a fun and practical way. Over the 4 days I learnt many new skills and taxed my brain in a way it hasn’t been for years!

Cob and straw building is an amazing eco way to build. I had no idea how easy and strong it could be. The housing and structures are stunning and very desirable.

The first practical activity of the course was to create the Cob. It is made up of clay, straw, gravel, sand and water. The mixture we created was much courser than I thought it would be. This brought up some questions for me to ponder. How could I use a similar mixture but finer and would this still be as effective?

Working as a team we mixed it up using buckets and a tarpaulin. It had to be just the right consistency to use for the wall. When I come to make my sculptures, this will be an important factor. The mixing was done using a foot stomping technique. This was great fun and very physical work.

Some of the ideas I initially had about cob turned out to be not quite as I had thought. One of the main reasons that the mixture lasts a long time is very much to do with the construction of the roof that overhangs the walls. This allows the cob to stay dry and keep it from being worn away by the elements. The use of lime render also helps. So unless I intend to make large roofs over my sculpture, then I may not be able to achieve the longevity I had originally intended. Admittedly this was a little disappointing and I wasn’t sure how to achieve my goal. With this in mind, I decided that I would see this as very experimental. It might even be possible to build a creative shaped roof like structure.

Using the Lime render will also play a part in the sculpture process. Applying it to the built wall was very satisfying and one of my favourite techniques that I learnt. We also covered using the straw to build with. I am not sure at this stage whether I will use this in my sculpture but it was a great way to build walls and create a thermal mass.

There was a lot to take in over 4 days. I came away buzzing but slightly overwhelmed. It was an initial introduction into building with cob but I now, not only want to use it in my artwork, I want to build my own dwelling and also a community Cob classroom. To achieve this, I will need to get lots of practice and volunteer with other cob projects. Who knows maybe I might even get to go to India to help Kate!

If you want to know more about the next stage in my project, please subscribe to my website and keep an eye out for the next instalment in this journey.

I give thanks to the arts council for this opportunity.