Exploring nature through art

Here at Earth Trust Centre at the foot of Wittenham Clumps, our artist in residence, Nicola Fielding, has temporarily transformed the Mezzanine space into a pottery studio. It’s a haven of creativity and inspiration, with the walls adorned with images of our local landscape and wildlife, along with Nicola’s numerous sketches and ink paintings. Surrounded by the natural beauty that fuels her artistic creations, we catch up with Nicola to delve into her journey as an artist, her connection with nature, and the intricate process behind her clay sculptures.

Rooted in creativity

Nicola was creative from childhood, always drawing hedgehogs and other animals. This innate creativity guided her through school, where she gravitated towards art and later pursued a foundation in art and design before studying painting at university. However, it wasn’t until she trained with a local potter that she discovered her profound love for working with clay. This newfound passion led her to build a studio in her garden during the lockdown, where she began crafting sculptures.

Discovering the Earth’s palette

Nicola’s work is deeply influenced by her surroundings. Growing up near the Wittenham Clumps, she knew the area’s rich clay deposits would be a perfect medium for her art during her residency. “I was really excited to have the opportunity to dig up a little bit of clay and test fire it in the kiln. The range of colours that emerged were incredible!”

The process of sourcing and preparing the clay is meticulous. “With permission from the land owner, I find a bit of soil that looks like it’s got clay underneath, dig up a boxful, and take it home,” Nicola describes. The clay is then soaked in water, filtered through a fine sieve, and transformed into slip—a silky clay that she uses to paint and decorate her pieces. “Slip has been used as a pottery technique for hundreds of years. The Romans also used it for decoration,” she notes. This approach not only grounds her work in the local landscape but also adds a personal touch, as she is quite literally painting with the land.

Nicola Fielding earth trust artist in residence

nicola fielding artist in residence clay sculptures

From concept to creation

Nicola’s creative process is a methodical blend of planning and spontaneous exploration. “I’m a planner, it is quite a complicated process I put myself through,” she admits.

Firstly, exploring the Earth Trust site she documents the wildlife she comes across and transforms these observations into a visual diary in her sketch book. Using ink made from natural materials she’s found, the drawings are brought to life. These sketches serve as the foundation for her clay sculptures, inspired by species that captivate her, like the shrew, snake and great crested newts with their intriguing textures and colours.

The foraged slip is delicately applied to the sculptures which, when fired in the kiln, adds subtle hues of colour to her creations.

Workshops and community engagement

As part of her residency, Nicola has been conducting workshops that invite participants to engage with the local environment through clay to create their own version of the Wittenham Clumps.

“We start by making a pinch pot of the clay, and that’s going to be our clump,” she explains. Participants then explore textures and create their own wildlife-inspired sculptures, pressing leaves and other natural elements into the clay. “My favourite part of the residency has been the workshops – watching families working together, and the quiet chatter as they’re busy making something unique,” she tells us.

The culmination of these workshops will be a collective exhibition, showcasing the community’s creations as a unified landscape.

A glimpse into the legacy piece

Nicola is working on a legacy piece focused on her favourite of our local endangered species – the great crested newt. While she remains tight-lipped about too many details, she can’t hide her excitement. What she can tell us is that it will take the form of an entirely handmade mosaic illustrating a map of the Earth Trust site. The piece will aim to reflect the topography and roman heritage of the landscape, and highlight the importance of our green spaces for species of concern.

Nicola’s transition from painting to working with clay represents a deep conversation with the earth, as the soil and the creatures it provides homes to, come alive and tell their stories through her hands.

Her advice to budding artists looking to explore their connection with the natural world is to get out and explore, gathering ideas in a notebook as you go, and try lots of different things – this takes the pressure off trying to make what you’re doing perfect every time.

Nicola’s residency at Earth Trust can inspire us all to take a closer look at the natural world around us, and remind us of the beauty and interconnectedness of nature. The finished artwork will be unveiled later this summer.


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ink paintings by nicola fielding earth trust artist in residence 2024

Watch the video to hear from Nicola about transforming Wittenham Clumps into beautiful works of art…