Outdoor Artschool, Autumn 2020


Circling the Square

Outdoor Artschool has been celebrating the changing season, in the heart of the city in Winckley Square Gardens, Preston, Oct 19th – Nov 1st, 2020

Contributors:  Glennis Hulme, Claire Norcross, Lisa Brown and Fiona Candy

As the sunlight grows weaker, shadows lengthen and leaves turn to shades of red and gold and fall, we know winter is fast approaching. The clocks change, darkness extends and the days and nights turn cold. Now is a good time to look back over the past year, to reflect and plan new futures, as the circle of life continues to turn.

‘Squaring the circle’ is a familiar idiom often used to describe an impossible task. As a play on words, flipping it to ‘circling the square’ feels more optimistic, as well as relevant to our Winckley location, in these topsy-turvy times.

Outdoor Artschool contributors have been working with the circle to express themes of  presence, personal space, community and protection. Plus, on a more universal scale, the revolutions of the Earth around the sun, the rhythms of the seasons, wholeness and the infinite, are conveyed via the circle’s powerful symbolism. In circling the square, the circle can be interpreted to represent the universe, and the square is the Earth.

IMG_5905Responding to our surroundings through craft and direct, physical activity, can open up ways of understanding life that are ancient and powerfully emotive: far older than medical science, statistical data or politics. By working with colour, form, line and texture, we intended to access and draw attention  to nature’s wondrous paintbox; to tap into sensations of mood and atmosphere, of shifting light and shade, as well as the grounding, soothing affect of being outdoors, in this case in the centre of the city.

Through our making we wanted to get closer to nature, to learn from the Earth’s living system, by crafting what it has made ready to hand.

Then release it to time…


Winckley Square is a one of the finest examples of a Georgian square in the North West of England. It’s located in the city of Preston, with a small and beautiful public park at its centre: Winckley Square Gardens. (Below: a video view, from the south east corner, panning to south west.)

Our interventions have been dependent on the leaf fall/ twigs/seeds of the various trees; on sensing connections in the landscaping and pattern of pathways, the presence of other people and of course, the weather. Opportunities have been different every time, with lots to learn and try out. Our aim was to be fully present in the moment, to be free to just respond: interpret the influences in a spontaneous, unplanned way, by making what feels right.

Big influences on our circle making were the works of UK artists Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long. Another influence came from Zen, where ensō is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. So, at this difficult time in our collective history, when the Covid pandemic is challenging normality and undermining everyday confidence, there seemed to me to be many reasons why the circle would be a powerful symbol to work with.

We didn’t judge the things we made in terms of ‘Art’ and we weren’t at all precious about the results. We simply relished the contemplative process, and the sense of embodied equilibrium, new ideas and possibilities we gained, through doing it.

Tree of life small
Above/below: Tree of Life 20.10.20.
Tree of life 2
In this subtle intervention we removed leaves from a two x metre diameter circle location in the Square and placed them in another – mixing leaf colours and tree species, to emphasise bio-diversity, vibrance and energy.
Work in progress captured from inside The Artistry House, 16 Winckley Square. (Thanks to Andy Walmsley for photograph) 23.10.20
Above: Glennis circling in the Square. 21.10.20

Our activities had a performative aspect too: people working in the buildings around the Square and passers-by were able to observe us at work and what we made, perhaps try out techniques themselves later.  We wanted to show that we were being creative, enjoying ourselves safely, in spite of the Covid pandemic. The mood of the season influenced us all and visitors to the Gardens were curious and asked questions. We had some great conversations for example: about “acting goat” and the links between creativity and having fun; we chatted gently together around themes of health, illness, loss, happiness, continuity, and about our relationships with light …

Above: Lisa in the treetops, working fast to trace the ash tree’s moving shadow into the carpet of fallen leaves. Evidencing the Earth’s rotation and creating a kind of time-lapse ‘photogram’ in the process.
shadow tree photo 1
Photograph courtesy of Lisa Brown. 25.10.20

Video: Claire made this lyrical, ‘stitched’ intervention at the circumference of the willow tree. 25.10.20.

Photograph above: courtesy of Lisa Brown. 25.10.20

This very short video sequence of windblown, fallen ash leaves (above) connects to the ash tree’s particular significance to our times, not just because of its ancient connections with magic and medicine, but because it is thought to be currently under threat from Chalara die back disease, in UK.  Die back is caused by a fungus named Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (H. fraxineus), which is of eastern Asian origin.


One of a series of colour palettes developed during the project.


This autumn has been so gloriously spectacular, the leaf colours unusually intense, as though the trees have been signaling: “look at us – remember why we are here!”

Outdoor Art School is intended for anyone interested in nature and/or the arts. No prior arts’ experience is required and activities are designed to be stimulating and insightful, to encourage curiosity and the acquisition of new skills and ideas. Simple, creative exercises enable participants to learn together outdoors, by reconnecting to nature’s know-how.

NOTE: Because of Covid19 and social distancing measures we did not advertise this activity as we might have done in different circumstances. It’s been intentionally small, flexible and informal. We see it as a pilot project, to grow new opportunities for arts and nature engagement in Preston’s parks and open spaces, and to keep the momentum going during the pandemic, for the future.

Keep in touch with Outdoor Artschool activities via this blog and at  Instagram: @outdoor_artschool and @instinct_thrives

Thanks to @glennishulme, @clairenorcross, and @lisabrownphotos for their time and creative input.

Special thanks to Tony Lewis, Park Warden and to Fiona Porter, Preston Parks Manager for their support and to all the Parks staff, for their effort and constant inspiration.

Using pine needles to ‘stitch’ leaves together