The Grammar of Snow

By Roberta Pucci with the contribution of Suzanne Axelsson

Art works by Ceca Georgieva and Lucia Pec

Macrophotographs by Alexey Kljatov

Cover image: Lucia Pec


How choosing materials for creative explorations and where look for them? In a shop, at home or in the whole environment around you? I think the art studio – the atelier, or the art classroom – is a metaphor of a meaningful, creative encounter with the world and not necessarily a room.
It is a potential approach to all matter. For example, what about snow?

 

 

Snow exploration in the forest by Suzanne Axelsson

The very first approach I always suggest with any material is possibly fresh and new as it was the first time you see it: not already know what it is, but trying to have an encounter through the senses, the body, the movement, devoid of goals and thinking. We ARE matter, after all: no needed to always understand or create something. Can we just truly live a respectful encounter? Like a curious but discreet and gentle guest, observing and “listening” to the other side, instead of only take and use.

Snow, what or who are you?


How does it sound? How does your skin perceive it? How many ways you can handle it and with how many tools, in addition to your hands? How many kind of snow does exist – kind of consistencies, textures, whites?
I was so surprised and amazed when Suzanne told me there are about 50 Swedish words for define the snow, some used by most people all over Sweden, some used in certain areas only or just for work, in order to recognize when there is a risk for avalanche.

 

  • Drivsnö – drifting snow
  • Djupsnö – when it is very deep
  • Fimmern eller fimmeln – very fine/small snowflakes at very low temperature, like glitter in the air
  • Firn – small, grainy snow
  • Fjunsnö – very light fluffy snow
  • Flaksnö – there is a layer of ice on top like a lid
  • Flister – fine grained snow that you barely notice but somehow gets stuck in your face
  • Knarrsnö – makes a squeaky sound when you walk on it
  • Nysnö -new snow
  • Slask – slush (melting)
  • Snöhagel – mix of hail and snow
  • – snow piles that are left as its all melting
  • Upplega – snow that collects on the branches of trees
  • Yrsnö – snow blowing in all directions at once
  • Kramsnö – the kind you can make snowballs with (it means hug-snow or squeeze-snow)

 

Art work by Lucia Pec

Snow hides, plays hide and seek, but can also be terrifying in a storm and make getting lost. It can be both soft and hard, silent and noisy. It makes us wonder and wonder again… often connected to some special childhood memories. Can you recall one? I have some too… my personal experience is from the distance of very thick clothes, hat, scarf and gloves, like a little astronaut. So it was something irresistibly attractive but in the meantime difficult to reach and play with.
Maybe this first encounters are connected to my contemplative approach I developed later. What is yours? Can you recognize and support different ways of experiencing?


One of my first encounter with snow – 4 years old

Everything becomes softer, silent and blunt, or hard and creacky if frozen. Snow as a white, uncontaminated sheet of paper over the whole landscape, where signs, paths and maps of prints may appear.

Many authors were inspired by this magic, for example Aoi Huber-Kono with “Winter” or Bruno Munari with his famous “Cappuccetto bianco”, the white version of Little red Riding Hood, where the reader has got to imagine what is happening in the white pages.
The personality of white can express itself to its fullest potential through the snow. How many shades of white can we “see” and name? Are we sure it is only white and there are no other color shades?

 

Picture from the book “Winter” by Aoi Huber-Kono

Snow is part of the wider environment, of course, and we should keep this connection in mind. There are endless possible ways, as we can see throughout the pictures of the post.

 

Art works by Ceca Georgieva

How can we create a dialogue between the snow and the natural elements of the environment? How many ways can the snow encounters a tree, considering its specific shape, size, “personality” and place where it stands?
With snowballs, for example: and everytime the composition is different, related to that tree, group of tree or bush…


Art works by Ceca Georgieva

…or using some natural materials of the environment for making a composition over the snow, that serves as a welcoming support.

 

Art works by Lucia Pec

Snow can also become a material for drawing, by adding it on a surface…

 

Art works by Lucia Pec (on the left) and Suzanne Axelsson (on the right)

…or removing it. How many kind of tools, signs and prints can we explore?

 

Art works by Lucia Pec (on the left) and Suzanne Axelsson (on the right)

It is also a material to be modelled, for creating sculptures. Yes, snowmen of course, but why not a chair, a rhinoceros, the hand of the frozen giant, which emerges from the earth, or just a shape inspired by the material and the context itself?


Art works by Lucia Pec

Each transformation affects all the environment: it is like a dialogue though matter, shapes and colors; through nature and the creator.


Art work by Lucia Pec

Who leads, who follows? Where does the inspiration come from? Here below we can see different kind of examples: a pattern probably inspired by the snowflake structure but mainly processed by the artist (on the left) and a dialogue between a stone, snow and lades of grass that seems coming out from the shapes of the stone and the grass, from that specific encounter highlighted by the snow , through the artist as a link between them.

 

Art works by Lucia Pec

Now let’s shift from the whole landscape to a single snowflake. It is a so fascinating mistery, a world within a world. Each one is unique, there are not two identical snowflakes in the world. How is it possible and how does a snowflake form?

 

Macrophotos by Alexey Kljatov

As Ian Stewart explains in his beautiful book “What Shape is a Snowflake?”, it is a tiny ice crystal that develops its first nucleus according to its molecular, inner rules. But then, while it is travelling from up to earth, through the atmosphere, it encounters specific conditions (of pressure, umidity, temperature, wind) so that every journey will be a little different and will provoke a different final shape.

 

Macrophotos by Alexey Kljatov

What interesting questions, wondering and learnings within these micro-universes… how preserving this wonder in a educational context? How can we support children to develop their own investigation, without giving ready answers?

As educators and parents, these are important questions to keep in mind.

If you are interested to continue the exploration of the grammar of snow, I invite you to have a deeper look at the amazing work of the land artists Ceca Georgieva and Lucia Pec, of the educator, teacher trainer and author Suzanne Axelsson and the photographer Alexey Kljatov – that I deeply thank for letting me share their inspiring works.

But above all, if you are lucky enough to live in a snowy place, I suggest you to just welcome the snow as a friendly guest and to enjoy your encounter, without knowing where it will take you.

 

Art works by Lucia Pec

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The leaf, the light and I

autumn leaves

I would like to take you in a short walk through a small, wild garden.

What are we looking for?

Just let eyes freely lead you, without thinking, and – maybe – beauty will appear.

Why “maybe”? Wasn’t beauty already there (in a flower, a leaf, a tree) before we came?

Yes, in a way… But the aesthetic experience can only happen during a meeting: between a flower (a leaf, a tree) and somebody who looks at it. The aesthetic experience is a special kind of relationship. Let’s look it closer.

While walking, some leaves attracted me. It was not a generic or naturalistic interest, but a specific imagine that has appeared and caught my eyes because of a certain color, a shadow, a texture of ribs. It is not “any” leaf but “that” leaf, in that moment and place, seen from a precise point of view. Light helps to create that unique picture, affecting its colors and shadows. Thus, through the light, a special connection has established between me and the leaf.

Have we found it or was it waiting for us?

Maybe both, in a kind of synchrony. There is a potential beauty that needs both waiting and intentionality for revealing itself. An empty and receptive space is necessary to make something new come in.

Can we preserve it? Do we give us enough “empty” time?

I think everyone can feel the sensation of being intensely connected to something while looking at it. This is an aesthetic experience. It happens “hic et nunc”, here and now. A small oasis where time stands still.

So why just don’t pick that flower to bring home and put it in a vase?
Because it is an experience of connection, not of possession.
Where does it happen?
Almost everywhere. This is why I took you in a small garden, a few steps from home, and not in a National Museum.

Can we take a picture of it?
This is a central point: photography can be a tool, not a goal. If our objective is catching a beautiful picture to hang on, the camera will be an obstacle for living this kind of experience.
No products, no thinking process… So what’s the point?
A short, intense meeting with beauty: the leaf, the light and I.
Enjoy your walk.

Details are treasures: how finding them?

Looking for details

Details are like treasures that we always have before our eyes, but which often – we adults – cannot see. Instead children find them easily, it’s their natural way of looking. They can be our teachers. Thus, the invitation is to play this “detail hunt” together with children. The starting point can be any image. However, as autumn has just begun with its wonderful colors, nature offers us excellent ideas. And it might be a good idea choosing images of familiar places, which we are not used to observe any more, also taking the pictures together with children.

Looking for details

To prepare the game, you need two prints of the same picture, preferably in big format. Cut out from a white cardboard a “window”, that will be the frame through which you will observe the image. Then cut one of the prints into many parts of the same shape of the window: these parts are the details you should look for in the entire image (using the frame).

A piece of the trunk of a tree

It could become a board game or a calendar, just as the original project created for some Italian preschools, collaborating with the photographer Marco Andreani, author of the photographs.

A calendare with pictures' details

Is “the lawn” what we see or do we see a blade of grass plus a blade of grass plus a blade of grass…? What we say “seeing the lawn” is only an effect of our rough and coarse senses; a set exists only because it is made up of distinct elements. No need to count them, the number does not matter; what matters is to grasp the individual seedlings one by one in a single glance, in their particularities and differences. And not just seeing them: thinking of them. Instead of thinking “lawn”, think of that stem with two leaves of clover, that lanceolate leaf a little hunched, that thin corymb … Italo Calvino, “Palomar”

blades of glass

Enjoy your detail hunt!

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