The art of WWOOFing

Sep 21, 2023

By Heather Macdonald

What I have found to be the beauty of WWOOFing is the time and space there is for reflection. For me this has aided my creative work hugely, as it gives me the time to explore my ideas as well as bringing inspiration from the natural world for my work. When I started WWOOFing in January 2021 I had already started painting landscapes on commission, but the experience of farming led me to meet people and be struck with ideas I never would have otherwise. I got to live in beautiful parts of the country that I never would have been able to otherwise, and engage with local communities that were integral to the WWOOF hosts.

Working outside often created a meditative space for me to mull over ideas and be struck by inspiration for my artwork. Usually if I happened to be working alone on a task and I could really get into the flow, whether it be digging potatoes, grading willow, grafting saplings, cleaning eggs or moving compost, I had time to let creative thoughts bounce around my head until one stuck. One of the best times for this contemplation was on a ‘chicken day’ at Bosavern Community Farm. Although at first it doesn’t exactly sound relaxing to be hounded by 400 squawking hungry chickens, all desperate for feed and keenly tuned in to the sound of a cracking egg, these days gave space for inspiration to strike. There would be the peaceful walk up to the top field with my wheelbarrow full of feed, the walk around the perimeter of the 2 acre field to search for hidden eggs in the nettles, the diligent filling up of feed and water. Knowing you were the first one awake when you rose at sunrise to free the chickens from their nights rest, diligently shutting these sheds up again at sunset as the chickens cooed and purred (yes, purred, if you’ve worked with chickens you know what I mean). I’m thankful for these days of quiet, that occasionally felt dull or repetitive, but as the saying goes, boredom breeds creativity.

Being outside everyday in the changing weather, as I have WWOOFed in all months apart from December, gave me huge appreciation for the changing landscapes and the rhythm of the seasons. I’ve cracked open a frozen pond with a spade at Mere Brow Farm while the sun rose through overcast clouds, snow on the ground and on the saplings around me. I’ve worked in the unrelenting August heat at Bosavern Community Farm where the crops and volunteers alike battled the temperatures and saved the seeds of the bolting plants.

Just the interaction with learning how my food grew and being so involved with the crops led me to appreciate the simple beauty of crops that were growing, and the nature around me. I filled sketchbook pages with watercolour and pencil drawings of tomatoes, gourds, chickens, mushrooms, polytunnels, trees. The colours and textures were so lovely to experiment with and appreciate. I couldn’t help notice the beauty of a particular tomato variation if I was spending hours harvesting them, noticing the way they climbed to the ceiling of the polytunnels, wrapped around each other, produced flowers and started small, the gradient of yellow to green to red to orange. The satisfying beauty of seeing all the winter squashes lined up in a polytunnel, trays of onions drying with their peeling papery skin and curling tendril roots, the way the light hit the polytunnel plastic when the sun was setting.

The best part of WWOOFing for me was the I met and the friends I made. After living in a built up city for my university degree, and then moving to another city for work straight after graduation, I struggled in these five years to feel grounded in the urban environment, seeking solace in green spaces and often venturing out of the city on my days off to feel replenished.  Starting to WWOOF and be in the great outdoors, I found ‘my people’. People who cared about the earth and felt they were a part of mother nature, who thrived in working outside, who found beauty in the quirks and ongoing dialogue with the natural world.  Documenting these times of socialising through sketches where we were all grouped as a unifying ‘WWOOFER’ was really important for me, and an ongoing project for me is to go back through these photos of our communal living and continue to sketch and create from them.

I was inspired by all the artistic projects that other WWOOFERs and volunteers engaged in and that was a huge influence on thinking about the kind of things I want to create.The reason I began doing lino prints properly was because of my friend and WWOOF host Polly (@pollymas), she leant me the tools to create my first print of a mushroom that I also happened to have sketched because she was growing them! She had created a beautiful print of a chicken that set the standard for the rest of my lino prints, and she created an amazing mural at the entrance of the Bosavern Community Farm shop.

Polly’s amazing mural

I dabbled in sign making because my fellow WWOOFer Warren (@artbywren) set the standard with his detailed handmade signs. Others came with their cameras and shot beautiful stills of working out on the land. They came with their sketchbooks and keenly filled them throughout their stay, noticing the beauty in things and places I’d never paid attention to. The living room in the house had a mural on one of its walls, and there were sketches and paintings and crafts scattered throughout the house, on walls and bookshelves and window sills. The space bred creativity.

I can’t wait to see what inspiration my future WWOOFing will bring!

We’d like to thank Heather for sharing her creative WWOOFing journey with us. We love the rich choice of words and the vibrancy of her paintings, prints and sketches. We can’t wait to see what inspiration Heather’s future WWOOFing will bring either!!!

You can see more of Heather’s work on instagram @heathersinclairmac and in her Etsy shop.

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