Review: Elementum No 1

‘Ocean Beat’ by Sorrel Wilson and Jay Armstrong

Reading Elementum is something of a subtle sensual overload.  This new journal ‘of nature and story’ is a beautifully judged amalgam of photographs, art, narratives, poems, design, paper craft and ink. Everything about it seems set to put a brake on the swish-swish-swoosh mode of browsing engendered by too much shiny screen time.  The matt surface of paper itself gives the eye traction, and the words on the page offer a firm growing medium for thought.  This is rich soil.  And, like a healthy loam, the book – it’s fair to call it that, as it is a decent index finger think – has it’s own intoxicating scent. I’m reading while basking in the fertile tang of printer’s ink.  Contributor and editor Jay Armstrong has made a marvellous thing!

Elementum has many fine photographs. Amongst many opportunities it has created, the journal offers an all too scarce venue for that rare creature the photo essay.  Jay Armstrong herself is the most significant photographic contributor to issue one. Her work is grounded and well judged, although perhaps essays from a wider selection of photographers might contribute even greater depth to issue two (I’d love to see some work by Finnish or Norwegian photographers in Elementum, there might be some curious resonances there).

Humpback Whale 1 by Rebecca Clark

Humpback Whale 1
by Rebecca Clark

However, I was personally drawn to early publicity for Elementum not by photography, but when I saw Rebbeca Clark’s breathtaking drawings of whales, and these, along with engaging print works by Lucy Grant and Nicole Heidaripour and loose but thoughtful drawings by Caroline Blythe, do not disappoint. For these illustrators at the peak of their game, Elementum has provided a canvas where their images can riff with ease while harmonising with very good writing.  And that writing is there, and does not disappoint – narratives of place, human and nature, and inevitably of journey.

The theme of the first edition is ‘Calling’ and the call of the ocean features large although not uniquely.  In Rob Harrison-Plastow’s story about boat builder Ben Harris, we find out how woods from all over the world, and from no small space of years, have come to find another life through Ben’s own unique personal history.  Some of the timbers forming the cutter Alva even come from the mills of Dundee, now near home for me, and from the slopes of Glen Clova, which are always near my heart.  Learning as I went, I discovered the history of how whale song was discovered in a piece by Jay Armstrong (superbly illustrated by Rebbeca Clark), the seductive traditions of mermaid folklore and tradition from Alex Woodcock, and about making a different kind of journey into a quieter mind with Anna Haigh.

I could go on, but I’d probably end up simply becoming a table of contents for this fine collection of work.  I confess to jealousy – I wish I could have made this! – but I am very glad that Jay Armstrong has!  I notice that issue number two is titled ‘Gap – in which we explore the spaces in-between’.  As a frequent wanderer in the interstitial, I can’t wait!

You can find out more about Elementum at




About stevedsmart

Steve Smart is an information designer, poet and artist. View all posts by stevedsmart

One response to “Review: Elementum No 1

  • elementumcornwall

    Steve – we’re very grateful for your review and thank you for taking the time to reflect on Edition One. It seems that we’ve achieved our aim of bringing something beautiful to the world.
    Thank you also for your suggestions re photographers. We’d very much like to include more photographic artists and appreciate your feedback. These are our sentiments as well – triangulation is good!
    Best wishes, Jay

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