Sunday, 31 January 2010

Artlab and Connections

When I was chatting with Lubaina Himid at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Preston, she suggested I might consider joining the Artlab Contemporary Print Studio based at the University of Central Lancashire.

Unless you count potato printing and a few attempts at lino cuts, i've never really done any printing. But, I thought i might be able to experiment with print while developing the dandelion project further.

Going to Artlab and learning this new skill has taught me a number of things:
  1. I should have more patience - i'm not going to become a master printer within the anticipated 6 months (or 6 years for that matter)
  2. It is unlikely that I will ever produce a run of prints numbering more than 3
  3. I should have more patience - turning up and working for 4 hours does not guarantee going home with one good print
  4. I have to look after my copper plates better - inexplicable scratches seem to mysteriously appear from nowhere
  5. I should have more patience
One of the best things about going to Artlab has been meeting and chatting with other members in the group.
While chatting about the dandelion project with one fellow Artlab member called Muffy she mentioned that her mum, living in USA, was also really keen on dandelions and is on the board of the Pine Tree State Arboretum in Maine.
She gave me her email address and we've been in contact.

The image here is the first print i'm happy to show - the first few were truely crap.

Sewing and TV

I decided a while ago that I watch far too much TV in the evenings and I could be doing more productive things - like making art.

When I was little my mum showed me how to sew (both my parents sew for a living) and although I haven't done any for years I thought this would be a good way to spend time while still watching television (I couldn't quite give it up).

Spending hours stitching the outlines of dandelions has made me look so much closer - how intricate, delicate and variable this overlooked weed can be.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Missed Opportunities

I went to Yorkshire Sculpture Park yesterday for a meeting and I was there from just before 11am until 3.30pm

It was one of those days where I really wanted to collect a couple of dandelion leaves, but things conspired against me and I came away empty handed. I was quite disappointed.

I've been to a few places in the past where I didn't have time to look for leaves, or sometimes I'm just too embarrassed to bob down in front of people i'm with (who don't know about the project) and come back up clutching two battered looking leaves.

On the way home yesterday I did have time in Leeds to leave the station and go along the river to find the two shown here. I saw a couple of Goosanders on the river too. That's nice.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Centre for Contemporary Art

The Centre for Contemporary Art is based at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, Lancashire and is the home base for a large group of research projects. It is led by Lubaina Himid, Professor of Contemporary Art and I met with her last year to chat about the dandelion project and how I could and should start to archive my collection.

Why and how would I put an order to this ramdom collection of stuff i've collected over the past few years (i've also been collecting other bits of wildlife - dead bees, wasps, butterflies, spiders - but that's a whole new blog i think).

How will I decide to categorise and label everything?
I keep wondering why i'm doing this - if there isn't a botanical use for my dandelion collection, how else, if at all, will it be used?

Freestyle archiving might be the way to go I think.

The image here is by Cecile M Driffield from a book by Gareth H Browning published in 1938 called Botany For Fun. Surely there should be a question mark on the end of that title.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Some Locations

The dandelion diaries track where i've been throughout each year.
I've collected dandelion leaves from many different locations (in no particular order) :

Aberdeen, Barrow, Burnley, Toronto, Blackburn, Budapest, Berlin, Lancaster, Birmingham, Niagra, Munchen, Carnforth, Castlefield, Hebburn, Chorley, Leeds, Ulverston, Wigan, Amsterdam, Wirral, Lytham-St-Annes, Runcorn, Riedlingen, Warton, Morecambe, Preston, Nottingham, Harrogate, Uffing, Edinburgh, Manchester, London, Galgate, Eccleston, Sigmaringen, Gateshead, Liverpool, Clitheroe, Grasmere, Heysham, Coniston, Haworth, Castleford, Pendle and Penwortham. Plus a few others that aren't near any specific village / town / city.

All the collected dandelions are from particular spots in these places: friends gardens and back yards, museums, galleries, campsites, parks, my allotment, named streets, and alongside roads and rivers while taking walks.


As I am planning to collect dandelion specimens while i'm in Japan and bring them back to UK, I thought i'd better check that it is allowed. So I sent an email to Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). This is their reply:

Dear Ms Chesney

Thank you for your email of 1 October.

Pressed and dried flowers are not Plant Health restricted. You will be able to bring the dandelions into the UK without Plant Health documentation providing they are free from pests.

I hope this is helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Customer Contact Unit


I'm pleased and quite relieved about this as I've collected specimens from other countries before and not sought permission until now. Good job it's OK then.

The image above is of my flower press made by Stephen (he used to work at Bolton Museum and made it for the poison project). I have 3 other presses: 2 made by my dad and 1 made by Mick.

*The sender gave their full name, but i thought it polite to use their initials instead.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Research Funding

At the begining of 2009 I was talking with my friend Charles (my unofficial mentor) about the dandelion project and the research I had started and the connections i'd found with Japan. He encouraged me to think about applying for funding towards the project. After wrestling with an application for months - trying to articulate the aims, methods and possible outcome - I put it in for consideration in spring 2009 and waited. And waited.

3 months later I heard from Arts Council England : they had awarded me funds to go on a research trip to Japan to look at dandelions. How exciting!

So, my plan is to go to Japan to look for both Japanese and European dandelion specimens and also to look in museum collections to see if I can find the representation of dandelions in Japanese material culture.

Owen (the botanist) visited me in December for the weekend and he brought with him a massive book on the flora of Japan. There are over 20 species of Japanese dandelions and we decided the best time for me to go is in April. So, i've booked my flight for mid-April.
I fly to Tokyo, then i'm travelling to Hiroshima and to Kyoto, before returning to Tokyo. In this time I want to visit as many museum collections and botanical gardens as I can and to also try and collect specimens.

It happens to be the cherry blossom season while i'm there - bonus.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


I've just got back from a trip to Brantwood on Lake Coniston by public transport - it took 3 hours to get there and almost that long to get back too. I collected these dandelion leaves from St Andrews Church in Coniston village at lunchtime (i didn't get time to collect any from Brantwood itself, but have some from there on an earlier trip). I've now put them in a heavy book to press before I put one in the dandelion diary.

Today i also saw 4 Little Egrets, 3 black rabbits and 1 nun - you don't see that if you're driving.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


I'm a very lucky person: I have loads of great friends and I know lots of really interesting people that i've gathered throughout my life (i'm 32). One of my most favourite people on the whole planet is called Owen. He used to come and do plant surveys on a remote farm where I lived in the back of beyond years ago. He's a botanist.

Unfortunately for him it means that he gets masses of emails from me pestering for information, comments, plant ID (usually from slightly blurred photos) etc...

I'm not sure he always gets what i'm doing - there is no scientific value to the dandelion project, therefore why would you waste your time?

He sent me this email about the dandelion project:

The problem is that your collection has focussed on the variety and fantastic architectural diversity of dandelion leaves. The leaves are helpful in taxonomy but not reliable and the only way to be fairly sure which dandelion you have is to gather flowers in April.
I think most of your plants come from verges - which probably means that they are all part of the section
Ruderalia, and many will probably be (accidental) introductions to the UK.

All is not lost, however. I'm copying this to my friend K W*, who used to work with us at Monks Wood but is now a key person in the BSBI. He's done some work on dandelions himself and may be able to suggest better than I can how best to progress with getting to grips with dandelions - and indeed whether you can use your leaf collection at all.

Take care
Much love

Owen XXX

Hmmm - what is the point of my leaf collection? Owen thinks there might not be a use for it at all, but surely that's only in a botanical sense.

* I wanted to protect the identity of the innocent, hence using initials and not their full name.

Japanese link

So, I was having a conversation with someone about the dandelion project and they mentioned an article they'd read in The Times that reported that the European dandelion was now considered an alien invasive species in Japan.

With further research I found that it has spread to many parts of Japan, particularly in urban and sub-urban areas, as it sucessfully out-competes the native Japanese species. Because the European dandelion is apomictic (it dosen't need pollinating before it sets seed), negative effects are incurred by native dandelions that do need to be pollinated before producing seeds.

I've read a few journals from various institutes in Japan that have conducted studies: The School of Human Science, Waseda University, Japan; National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences, Ibaraki, Japan; and the Laboratory of Entomology, Faculty of Agriculture, Kinki University, Nara, Japan.

I wonder if they do T-shirts from Kinki Uni? I want one if they do.

Friday, 15 January 2010


After a little general research into dandelions I have become more and more interested.
The Kew website says:

"As most British dandelions produce fruit without being fertilised (they are apomictic), substantial problems arise with the taxonomy of these plants. This group is complex consisting of around 200 microspecies, and is typically treated as a species aggregate, denoted as Taraxacum officinale agg. The dandelion is a perennial plant, and flowers throughout the year. Dandelions have deep taproots, and the whole plant contains a milky fluid known as latex. The flowerheads close at night, and can produce around 2,000 wind-dispersed fruits. Plants can also regenerate from pieces of the taproot."

There is also a really great book Dandelions of Great Britain and Ireland by AA Dudman and AJ Richards which gives loads of information:

"the number of native Taraxacum species known in Britain and Ireland probably doesn't exceed 150. Because of the ease of spread of wind-blown seeds, the proximity to Continental Eurpoe and the rediness of dandelions to prosper in man-made environments, there is a steady import of continental species, mostly in the Section Ruderalia, and this accounts for the larger number of some 235 species recorded from the British Isles".

I'm not especially interested in identifying all the different species I find - i'm not sure if i'd be any good at this really difficult subject, plus that's not really why i'm doing the dandelion project in the first place.

The image above is of a specimen sheet I produced for John Fox and Sue Gill at the Beach House in Baycliff. It shows some of the different dandelion leaves I collected around the site while there in May 2009.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Rare glimpse inside the dandelion diary

In keeping with most diaries, I don't like to show them to anyone: I'm often not where I said I would be! This is a page view from 2008 - no secrets revealed here.


I have a particular type of diary that I like to present my collected dandelions in.
For 2008 and 2009 Thomas Saible painted the covers for me. It makes them very beautiful on the outside. However, they are a bit messy on the inside and my hand writing is (and always has been) rubbish.

I'll collect a dandelion leaf from anywhere I visit - well anywhere I remember to collect one.

I don't like to travel with the dandelion diary as it's too precious. Because of this I often tuck leaves away in my sketchbook, but forget they are there until weeks later; or in my wallet between credit cards... hmmm - you'd think i'd worked out a good method by now.
I actually collect 2 leaves from each plant - one for the diary and the other for the dandelion archive (which, at this point, is still a figment of my imagination).

Monday, 11 January 2010


"A specimen without a label is useless"

"It is impermissible to press a plant, let alone to send it to anyone else, without a proper label, preferably in permanent ink, dark pencil or typed, giving as an absolute minimum the habitat, locality, grid reference, vice-county, date, collector's name, flower colour and habit"
Arthur O. Chater, Collecting and Pressing Specimens.

A specimen without a label is only useless to a botanist. But i'm not a botanist, i'm an artist. So i've made my own labels and use my own system of catergorising.

(The label here shows an image of Hemlock Conium maculatum on it - i do have a label with dandelion leaves, but i can't be bothered to look for it on my computer - sorry)

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Dandelion Project

This is the beginning of my blog about the Dandelion Project, but the project has been running for a couple of years or more already (mainly in my head).

I think it started in early 2006 when I decided to conduct a weed survey in Preston city centre (for an art exhibition). I found over 70 different plant species in a small urban area - in cracks in the pavement, down gutters, on roof tops etc. I was interested in how species adapt to the harsh environment of the urban landscape, but also found that some species thrive in it too.
Dandelions were one of the top in numbers, and I noticed that many had different shaped leaves and were very variable. Perhaps this is where the Dandelion Project started?

The following year I was lucky enough to be invited to make new artwork for an exhibition at Bolton Museum and Art Gallery where I met with Patricia Francis - Keeper of Botany at the Museum. She showed me how to collect, press and present specimens. It was then that I started to collect dandelion leaves and press them. At first there was no order to the collection and I didn't really label them at all, but at the start of 2008 I started to devise my own methods of labelling and proceeded to use a diary to document where and when they had been collected.