top of page

Morrison's, Ferns

DBegley-relict small.jpg

Relict, oak gall ink on paper 30 x 42cm

© David Begley 2023

Small Finds 


Small finds is an exhibition of works on paper by David Begley as part of his Ancient Connections artist Residency in Ferns, County Wexford, Ireland. A selection of these works will be exhibited at the Refectory, St David's Cathedral, Wales from February 23 - March 29 2023.


The Irish for Alder is Fearna from which the village of Ferns, County Wexford, derives its English name. Alder cones when boiled produce a rich, transparent, amber colour. When allowed to oxidise and reboiled with sea salt and vinegar this colour deepens and darkens. Becomes more opaque. Like oak gall, its tannins react with iron water to produce a permanent black.


Inspired by medieval manuscript making and informed by creating a Monk’s Garden, David foraged natural pigments from farm hedgerows in Ferns. He brewed these with rainwater, water from St Mogue's well, Ferns, as well as seawater to made inks.


'Dowsing paper in water and brushing or pouring ink onto this surface produces pools. Colour forms rivulets and leaves residues. I am fascinated in the images that arise from this process, how they shift and settle, how they mirror percolation in land. Dipping paper in ink forms strata. Blotting creates light. In these layers and shapes I find the soft open slopes of Ferns. I see monks, pilgrims, crones, beasts.


Leaving image-making to chance is unpredictable but in this I discover, and I learn. By treating the paper surface as a laboratory, witnessing chemical reactions unfold, some small wonders occur. The surface becomes volatile, colours evolve and cure. Ink dries and leaves its stain. It reminds me of how we have treated land.'

David Begley 2023

6 DBegley-Aed's-vision.jpeg

Aed’s vision, alder cone with watercolour on Fabriano Tiepolo, 20 x 25cm

© David Begley 2023

2 DBegley-Blot.jpeg

Ink blot, alder cone and oak gall ink on paper 15 x 21cm

© David Begley 2023

4 DBegley-mogue.jpeg

Mogue, oak gall, sloe, nettle ink on paper 21 x 15cm

© David Begley 2023

11 DBegley-new-ground.jpeg

New ground, alder cone ink on paper 21 x 30cm

© David Begley 2023


Cricalopocus, oak gall ink in concertina notebook 15 cm high

© David Begley 2023

1 DBegley River bank oak gall ink on paper 21 x 15cm.jpeg

Riverbank, oak gall ink on paper 21 x 15cm

© David Begley 2023


From ground water, alder cone, nettle, sloe ink on paper 20 x 15cm

© David Begley 2023


Éan, oak gall ink on paper 21 x 30cm

© David Begley 2023

plague rat.jpeg

Plaga, oak gall ink on paper 30 x 21cm

© David Begley 2023

7 DBegley-untitled.jpeg

Untitled, alder cone and oak gall ink on paper 15 x 20cm 

© David Begley 2023

10 DBegley-origin.jpeg

Origin, alder cone, reboiled alder cone and oak gall ink on paper 30 x 21cm

© David Begley 2023


Peregrinos, alder cone, nettle, gorse flower and oak gall ink with watercolour on paper 15 x 20cm 

© David Begley 2023


Seaslugseal, alder cone and sloe ink on paper 15 x 20cm 

© David Begley 2023

8 DBegley-small-find2.jpg

Small find 1, alder cone and oak gall ink, salt on Fabriano paper 30 x 42cm

© David Begley 2023

9 DBegley-small-find1.jpg

Small find 2, alder cone and oak gall  ink on Fabriano 30 x 42cm

© David Begley 2023

Small find 2, alder cone and oak gall  ink on Fabriano 30 x 42cm

© David Begley 2023


Pairing, alder cone and oak gall  ink on paper 15 x 20cm

© David Begley 2023


Mound, alder cone and oak gall  ink on paper 20 x 15cm

© David Begley 2023

corrosion pan.JPG

Patina: ink pan, elderberry and calcium carbonate


Residue, nettle ink

Nettle ink




Boiling ingredients to make ink requires patience. Like making a good sauce, it can go lumpy, evaporate, or burn and spoil. All that stirring for nothing. Turn an eye to the child, the phone, the knock at the door, and your liquid and work, may be lost. 

Not every ink is beautiful or useful. Some inks are better kept in their bottle to be admired in the light. I have just peeled apart notebook pages trying to decipher notes scribbled while cooking nettle ink. Before I began, I imagined deep Hooker’s Green or Chromium Oxide. A mute khaki perhaps but the ink I produced has the colour, consistency and covering power of sputum. An amazing green in its way but would I want to paint with it? 

Hilarious to think of the efforts I made gathering the ingredients: gloved in tight pinks picking nettles, arms out with funnels catching rainwater, airing Chardonnay dregs to vinegar, panning the sea for salt, clawing at a cherry tree for gum, and then, finally, standing over three hours of steam to reduce a gallon of nettle leaves and rainwater to two 60ml bottles of ink. One of which spilled in the bottling. 

All was not lost. After a deep sigh, I peered into the empty pot to find a most wonderful abstract bubbling at the bottom. I stole it from the stove, took it outside and let I cool. Held it up to the sun. The sun approved.
For this, it said, I gives you Revelation.

I stared into the pot, angled it to the light. The scum at the bottom shifted. A dozen bubbles popped to form an ochre crust. Images erupted in the tondo: Atlas held an ancient world aloft, a monkey dangled from an arc. 

Heat has a profound effect on colour. Ochre turned bright yellow. The last of the liquid rolled and dried into golden rivulets, leaving clusters of amber behind. I tried to scrape and gather the colour. It was too thin. I was too impatient. I let it cool and took it to the studio. 

Sun poured through the sky light and illuminated the yellow pot. I photographed it and realised that this stain, this unimaginable image, futility made manifest – all that remained of my nettle brew – was the reason I had spent the afternoon simmering. Not the ink nor my spoon made yellow. 


I believe images pre-exist. They wish to be witnessed, that is their purpose. Ours is to find and reveal them. We are conduits. Our hands move so that images can materialise. I try not to judge the pictures that come to me. If I pay attention, I learn from them. Without all the gathering and caring and taking time, there would have been no surprise ending.



Elderberry dye


Foraged inks from Morrison's Farm, The Harrow, Ferns:
Sloe, elderberry, holly berry and gorse flower, 2021

bottom of page