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Meet local maker Navigating the Wilderness
Navigating the Wilderness is the creative practice of Cass Humphries-Massey, a Birmingham-born-and-bred artist, maker and thanatologist. Navigating the Wilderness draws on place, nature and cyclical seasons to reflect life and loss in the city, and to recognise and support the community of Brum!
What first fuelled your passion to make/ create your designs/ products?
I have always been described as creative and crafty, but only really started to put it all into practice in the last five years or so after significant bereavements. My practice and passion to create are inextricably connected to my experiences of navigating grief and loss, and cultivating hope and restoration. What began as a way to document my connections to nature and the natural world whilst processing some really difficult times became a practice I nurture daily.
Tell us about the origins of your business.
Navigating the Wilderness emerged from a desire to navigate my own and collective grief(s) in a way that encompasses the wholeness of our experiences. The roots of Navigating the Wilderness are undoubtedly connected to my experiences as a bereaved parent, attempting to navigate a world that wasn’t entirely welcoming of our grief. My arts practice, paintings and illustrations are one branch of Navigating the Wilderness, and a way for me to support my business whilst connecting with people and places and forging paths through grief and growth. Other branches of my business include direct grief support, consultancy and training.
What’s your motto?
I’m often heard saying “all the things, all the time”, which talks to the way I see what can often be quite a complicated and contradictory world!
How would you describe your designs / products?
I would describe my designs as an ink-based meeting point between illustration and landscape paintings.
What was the first success / landmark moment for your designs / product range?
I work on quite a small scale, so my landmark moment so far would be when I sold my first framed original seascape in a digbeth marketplace. The painting was of Blue Anchor Bay in Somerset, a place of significance to me and my family. Knowing somebody saw this painting and its sunset colours in a digbeth warehouse, and connected with it enough to want it on their wall, connects a constellation of places and things that make up my work in a really meaningful way. I met this first customer at a recent winter market, and it cemented the significance of that first sale for me and my ongoing practice.
Tell us about your materials - where do you source your materials from?
I paint with acrylic ink, usually using quite textured papers, brought from art shops across the country. I’m experimenting at the moment with making my own cotton rag paper to retain some involvement in the creation of my materials, and I’d love to try making my own botanical inks in the future. In producing prints from my original art I put all my trust in Precision Imaging in Stirchley to scan and print my work true to colour and form.
Tell us about your making process?
I paint daily, or close to daily. I’ve recently accepted “putting my ink away” is unlikely to be a reality in my home as I’m never far from a paintbrush and an idea - which makes life with a little human and two cats interesting! I paint the places and moments I see, often painting trees and landscapes I’ve seen on local walks, or illustrating buildings and places I have an association with. I often start with digital sketches to frame a composition, before moving into more analogue processes. With prints, I make a very limited run available of any designs and print-to-order to align with my small scale practices.
Have you had any interesting commissions?
My commissions often support people in their grief, including memorial portraits of pets, and landscapes connected to places significant to people, so they are all deeply personal and an honour to paint. Having said that, my all time favourite and interesting commission has to be from my little one, a series of big pink animals at their request, including: a Roseate Spoonbill, Rose Robin, Pink Giraffe, Pig, Pink Hippopotamus and a Namib Sand Gecko.
Do you have a favourite of the Birmingham museums? If so, why?
I spent a lot of my childhood exploring the grounds of Aston Hall and recall running between the horse chestnut trees and feeling very small next to their height and the Hall. Sarehole Mill will also always be a favourite of mine, with its wild, almost wetland grounds and fantastical and literary landscape.
And finally, a tourist arrives in Birmingham for the first time ever, where do you take them?
Within the city, it would have to be independent cafe hopping, and a canalside walk. Further afield, we would explore Sutton Park, from Banners Gate to Blackroot, taking in the Holly and Birch, the wetlands and heathlands, and adventuring between the woodlands.