The Kirkton fish pass is a dramatic site. A glassy, sheet of amber water which tumbles into a frothing, bubbling mass of water. Cut into the weir is the larinier fish pass, a piece of engineering which will allow trout and salmon to migrate and travel upstream, plus an eel pass on the opposite pass. A new piece of public artwork is being developed which will help to shine light on the fish pass.

On Saturday 28th September a group of enthusiastic members of the public joined artists Morvern and Annie to take the first steps in creating this artwork. We began by exploring the landscape of the riverbank, setting out on a walk from Livingston Kirk to the fish pass. Each walker was handed an explorer kit containing materials to be used to record, gather and draw their experience of the walk including a handmade notebook, a fabric sample roll, ball of clay, colour charts and oil pastels. Along the way we gathered plants which inspired us through their shape, patterns and colour which were safely tucked away in fabric rolls to be used later as subject matter for drawings and other artistic exercises.

On reaching the fish pass David (RiverLife project assistant) spent some time talking to the group about the science behind the project – revealing how it works and how its construction may benefit the local biodiversity both on land and in water. After some warm up drawing exercises the group then begin to explore the fish pass by drawing on acetate. By layering several layers of acetate up the group created drawings which described the water, the man-made structures that have been integrated into the river and the plant life. These drawings were not only beautiful in their own right but would later be used to create cyanotypes – an early form of photography.

On the walk back to the days base the group made clay impressions of items found near the riverbank. Balls of clay in hand the group scattered into the trees, pressing the clay into tree bark, rocks, leaves and petals. Back at base it was time to warm up, chat, eat soup and drink coffee before the afternoon activities got under way.

Morvern guided the volunteers through a series of creative activities in their notebooks – creating a natural colour pallet by rubbing plants onto paper, using ink stamps to create plant impressions and mapping their walks. The group had time to reflect on their experience of the fish pass and considered how a piece of public artwork could communicate to the public some of the knowledge they had gained through the explorer walk.

Annie worked with the group to create cyanoypes. Using the acetate drawings from the morning and natural materials gathered on the walk the group created compositions which they laid on top of light sensitive paper. As the paper is exposed to light the objects cast shadows leaving ghostly silhouettes. A rinse in a water bath is the final stage of the process and the group gathered to admire each others work. The artwork, reflections and responses that came about as a result of the workshop will go on to form a vital part in the creation of the artwork on the river bank.