Audience Feedback – Sharing Our Altered Books At Leigh Art Trail

While for some artists exhibiting their work is partly motivated by making a sale, for SEVEN it’s simply about sharing our books. So after the pandemic hiatus a return to the real life Leigh Art Trail was pretty exciting – what would people say?

Our comments book

Spreading the Sketchbook Love

“I love this[.] Would prefer to have a sketchbook than a piece on the wall. Beautiful, ever changing work – I love it!!!” – B Dred

Mention selling the books to Jo and she turns all shades of white.

For us the Trail marks the culmination of our yearly project – individual explorations based around a central theme. This is the end of the journey, a point to pause, reflect on, share our work and hear what you have to say.

A visitor quote

From Confusion to Curiosity

This year Trailers were invited to zero-waste grocery store The Refill Room to peruse our altered books. And, because our host venue is all about, well, zero-waste our group theme was Reclamation and we used altered (or reclaimed) books – find out more about that here.

Being old pros at this LAT exhibiting lark, nowadays we know to expect a variety of responses from backing out the door in befuddlement to Trailers who come specifically to see our books:

“Wonderful work – each one is so individual. A joy to finally be able to handle work again – especially such joyful, tactile pieces. Love what you did with my mum’s book Juliet!” – Anne L

Provoking People

We aren’t trying to be Bansky or Tracy Emin or anything…

Yes, our 2020 project began with the oh-so-serious zero-waste theme – really it’s shocking how much we waste! – but our yearly theme is simply a launchpad for creative exploration. That’s why we called our project Reclamation – the word gave us something beyond issues of waste to play with.

But, still, the very act of reusing old books proved provocative:

“Really liked what you’ve done with the Girl annual, but I struggled with it as well. If it had been done in an Eagle annual it would have annoyed me intensely, but maybe that’s a (small) part of the point…?” – Anon

And, if you haven’t checked it out already, find out more about books and landfill here.

A visitor quote

Words Matter

So some Trailers come specifically to see us (colour us honoured!). Some stumble upon us. Others back away looking a little bemused. While some stop and pour over the pages with a kind of child-like wonder.  Whatever the response – well, sort of! – we love to hear what you have to say.

Thank you to everyone who came along to Leigh Art Trail (2020) 2021 and took a look at our SEVEN art books, we can’t wait to see you again!

Pages from our comments book

Do Our Art Journals Have Better Adventures Than Us Now? – The Estuary Festival

We might not have been going anywhere much over the last year or so, but our SEVEN journals have been. First it was New York with The Brooklyn Sketchbook Project then it was much closer to home with Estuary 2021.

Collective Journaling Inspired By The Thames

One of the last things we did in real life, before Lockdown 1.0, was attend an introduction to The Water Replies art journal project, led by Heidi Wigmore at Metal Southend – back where SEVEN all began. 

Part of the larger Estuary 2021 festival, The Water Replies, aimed to create “…a collective response to life living and working by the Thames Estuary”. So, in between renovating houses and doing PE With Joe, SEVEN and hundreds of other Estuary dwellers were dabbling in their A5 sketchbooks.

A selection of sketchbooks for The Water Replies exhibition, on display at Chalkwell Hall

The Journals Go Online

Fortunately much of Estuary 2021 had the potential to be a fresh air festival, featuring a range of art works situated within the very landscape that had inspired them.

But by spring 2021 we were in Lockdown 3.0, or something, and book handling en masse was deemed a no-no. So, The Water Replies journaling project was reimagined as largely an online affair.

While, the real-life journals have been showcased (throughout summer 2021) in the windows of Chalkwell Hall, in a kind of carousel scheme, which sees books moved and pages turned intermittently by invisible hands. Here are some of our pages:

Helen’s journal
Kim’s journal
Jo’s journal
Juliet’s journal
Amanda’s journal

Memory Lanes + Murals

At the start The Water Replies project seemed a little like treading over familiar territory for SEVEN. We’d shown Estuary-themed journals at The Leigh Art Trail and we often look to the local area for inspiration. Yet, 2020 provided this project with an unexpected backdrop and more space for deeper exploration.

So, alongside a kind of visual record of our (then present) Lockdown experiences, more and more memories resurfaced. For me, the stories my mum told me about escaping the grey East London streets for the magic of a seaside town, and the flashes of glamour offered by the yearly carnival and the accompanying torchlight procession seemed particularly poignant.

Curiously, some of my words even managed to break loose the confines of my book, taking on a life of their own. First they became a mural on the wall of Chalkwell Hall, before leaping all the way to London – they were last glimpsed at London Bridge train station (really) making their way to some exotic place – I like to think anyway…

Helen’s poster

The journals will be on display at Chalkwell Hall until the end of August 2021.

Among the Trees – Where we like to be!

Well what a year 2020 is turning out to be!

After the Spring lockdown and then being forced to move our fortnightly meetings to evening picnics in Chalkwell Park, we decided to get adventurous!

A trip to a gallery in London!!!

I led the way here by taking a reconnaissance visit to Whitechapel Art Gallery in July, risking public transport and spending several hours masked up! And so I was able to say, it was great. The train was quiet and I had walked from Fenchurch St to the gallery, which was very Covid-safe and empty. This is the best time to see art – there are no crowds!

We decided that Among the Trees at the Hayward Gallery would be a very interesting and varied exhibition with something for everyone.

After booking our time slot with the gallery, our travel plans were expertly co-ordinated by Juliet, who arranged which train and bus we would take. If the weather was fine, we planned to take a stroll along the South Bank.

Of course this is England in August and on the day of our trip, it was throwing it down, umbrellas and anoraks at the ready!

We safely negotiated the very empty C2C train to Fenchurch St, caught a bus from Tower Hill to Aldwych and walked over Waterloo bridge towards the South Bank Centre. This was also very quiet and we grabbed a lovely lunch at a restaurant with outside seating under large umbrellas.

So to the exhibition…Prepare to enter a forest of Art!

SEVEN, all masked up and ready to go!

I’ve had a thing about trees for years and so it was fantastic that a whole exhibition should be devoted to artists’ interactions and responses to trees.

Among the Trees gathers together works by more than 30 artists who reconfigure traditional genres and develop new ways of representing trees in order to shift our conventional perceptions and understanding.

A varied display of installation, video, photography, painting and sculpture had us marvelling one moment then questioning and wondering how this was made! Sometimes a piece of art was even quite distressing (I’m thinking of Robert Smithson’s upside down trees here!)

Here’s a small selection of work that we loved!

Eve Jospin: Forest, 2013
Johanna Calle: Perimetros (Nogal Andino), 2012
Kim getting up close to Ugo Rondinone: Wind Moon, 2011
Giuseppe Penone: Albero Porta – Cedro, 2021

Humanity is finally waking up to the importance of trees, that they might be sentient beings, which can feel and communicate with one another, that they are of vital importance to our existence on this planet and that they exist on a much slower time than we do!  So next time you go for a walk in the woods, breathe in that air and marvel at these giants and how amazing they are!

Further reading

For those who want to learn more about trees here’s my recommendations:

  • Among the Trees Exhibition catalogue – Hayward Gallery Publishing
  • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
  • Shinrin-Yoku: the Art and Science of Forest Bathing by Dr Qing Li
  • Wildwood, a journey through trees by Roger Deakin

Here is a list of the participating artists:

Robert Adams, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Yto Barrada, Johanna Calle, Gillian Carnegie, Tacita Dean, Peter Doig, Jimmie Durham, Kirsten Everberg, Simryn Gill, Rodney Graham, Shi Guowei, Hugh Hayden, Eva Jospin, Kazuo Kadonaga, William Kentridge, Toba Khedoori, Luisa Lambri, Myoung Ho Lee, Zoe Leonard, Robert Longo, Sally Mann, Steve McQueen, Jean-Luc Mylayne, Mariele Neudecker, Virginia Overton, Roxy Paine, Giuseppe Penone, Abel Rodríguez, Ugo Rondinone, George Shaw, Robert Smithson, Jennifer Steinkamp, Thomas Struth, Rachel Sussman, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Jeff Wall.

New Leigh Art Trail Venue, New SEVEN Approach

Yep, Leigh Art Trail 2020 is on the way and changes are afoot. No, we haven’t forgotten about the fallout following year’s drastic measures, but a new venue does call for a slightly new approach.

Here’s what SEVEN have got in mind for LAT 2020:

  • Our new venue, The Refill Room, is Leigh-on-Sea’s first zero waste store – so we wanted to honour this ethical and eco friendly ethos with our books
  • Our 2020 theme is Reclamation – a powerful word which has a plethora of meanings. According to

Reclamation (n.) late 15c., “a revoking” (of a grant, etc.), from Old French réclamacion and directly from Latin reclamationem (nominative reclamatio) “a cry of ‘no,’ a shout of disapproval,” noun of action from past participle stem of reclamare “cry out against, protest” (see reclaim). From 1630s as “action of calling (someone) back” (from iniquity, etc.); meaning “action of claiming something taken awat” is from 1787. Of land from 1848.

  • We’re using altered books instead of ready-made sketchbooks or hand-making our own – phew!
  • Workshops have been reinstated – we’re each taking it in turns to share a creative process
  • Our goody bags are back – we loved the idea of using similar items across our books, it’s a great way to see how five people use the same materials very differently…


Watch this space to see how our 2020 altered books develop. The first step is to find just the right altered book to work in – it can be easier said than done. For tips on picking and creating your own altered book check out this earlier SEVEN blog post “The Library of Reclaimed Books – a collaborative project.”

The Inspiration Behind SEVEN’s 2019 Art Books

LAT 2019 exhibition

Gene Simmons – you know, the Kiss guy with the graphic makeup and the wild tongue – once said:

“I crave ideas, and when an idea hits me, it grips me and it tortures me until I master it.”

That’s kinda how SEVEN’s 2019 creative art book project has taken us. Now the Leigh Art Trail 2019 is upon us and while all our art books are complete, some of us made it by the skin of our tortured teeth. Others, on the other hand, were much more organised (Kim!).

So we took this opportunity to look around and start asking ourselves some questions. What lessons have we learned? And what did we most enjoy while undertaking this particular SEVEN art project?

But first up, we asked…

Who Inspired Your Art Book?

Our unifying theme for 2019 was a favourite artist or art movement, but why did each SEVEN member choose their particular theme?

Kim – Robert Rauschenberg


Robert Rauschenberg (1925 – 2008) an American artist who worked in a variety of mediums – including painting, printmaking and performance – inspired Kim’s art book.

As the Rauschenberg Foundation says:

“…Rauschenberg has been called a forerunner of essentially every postwar movement since Abstract Expressionism.”

Which might have had a little something to do with why Kim picked him as her subject:

“For literally decades I would have said that Andy Warhol was my favourite artist, but when I saw the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern, it made me think again. Such varied work, so inspiring, it made a big impression on me, and I wanted to find out more.”

Jo – Hundertwasser


Jo chose Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an artist, architect and ecologist, as her subject. Born in Vienna in 1928 Hundertwasser became recognised for his striking use of spirals and arabesque lines. Writing about his art work in the mid-1970s he said:

“The colourful, the abundant, the manifold, is always better than mediocre grey and uniformity”,

Explaining why she took Hundertwasser as her starting point Jo says:

“I first came across Hundertwasser and his work during University, where I studied textile design. I love his use of colour and I’m inspired by the pattern-like style in his paintings and architecture. More recently I visited an exhibition of Hundertwasser, Klimt and Schiele at Atelier des Lumières, in Paris, which was an immersive experience that rekindled my interest.”

Amanda – Matisse


Amanda centred her project on Henri Matisse, (1869 –1954) a French artist, famed for his use of colour and decorative forms. But Amanda decided to concentrate on the legendary cut-outs, created towards the end of his career:

“I love his sense of colour and the playfulness he found in this late period of his work, when he was ill and had his assistants paint paper for him to cut into directly. I find fun in the work that I do with SEVEN and this playfulness in Matisse’s series fitted.”

Helen – Surrealism


So Helen focused her book on Surrealism:

“A twentieth-century literary, philosophical and artistic movement that explored the workings of the mind, championing the irrational, the poetic and the revolutionary.” – Tate Modern

While Salvador Dalí is probably the best known Surrealist artist – who were largely men – and Sigmund Freud their ‘patron saint’ Helen says:

“I was originally interested in some of the female Surrealists. Their use of myth, folklore, fantastic landscapes, Jung, alchemy, and more, fascinates me.”

Juliet – Oceania


Juliet’s concertina creation is inspired by the Royal Academy exhibition Oceania, which explored the art of the people of the Pacific ocean. The RA says:

“From shell, greenstone and ceramic ornaments, to huge canoes and stunning god images, we explore important themes of voyaging, place making and encounter.”

The exhibition featured works from the 18th century to the present and included:

“[S]eminal works produced by contemporary artists exploring history, identity and climate change.”

Juliet goes on to say that the reason for her choice was the fact that she:

“…loved how the art was so inspired by the world around them.”

Leigh Art Trail – at last!

So, it’s a wrap!

(From left) Jo, Helen, Kim, Amanda, Juliet

SEVEN are excited to be part of Leigh Art Trail 2019. Remember, the Trail is “…a not for profit, volunteer run, community engagement organisation, showcasing the work of local contemporary artists and designers”.

And, we love sharing both our creative art books and the ideas behind them with the many Trailers who take the opportunity to visit us at our lovely host venue Planet Leasing.

Have a go!