Elaine Ford


Captivated by complex biological and physical phenomenon of the natural world and our perception of time and space, Elaine experiments with data visualisations to inform and create new layers of interpretation. Elaine grows salt crystals to draw in space reflecting the fragility of our ocean ecosystems. Using puffin flight and ocean data, the saltwork explores impermanence and the interconnections of our living planet. Drawn to the fragile, light reflecting qualities of the crystals, the salt installation captures a ‘portrait of flight’ whilst projecting data of cyclic inexorable natural processes that denote notions of memory, time and transformation.


Fascinated by the use of satellite technology for the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats, Elaine explores data from Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) Project Puffin in the north of Scotland. Small tags record the movement of puffins flight and diving at regular intervals over land and sea during their breeding season.

Most visuals of the sea are of its surface, its skin, interested in the elusive experience of the ocean, Elaine reveals the unseen morphology of the planet by harnessing bathymetric data and combining Earth Observation, Sentinel-2 data with the movement of puffins during day and night.


Drawing from poems, academic papers, journaling and sketching, Elaine identified collaborators in order to obtain satellite and bird data. Putting the data in context Elaine explores data visualisations of puffin flight and hunting behaviour over the seas, creating a series of puffin portraits and signatures in time. The data revealed the extent to which puffins are a part of the marine environment. Intrigued by the sensuous aspects of the natural world, Elaine explores the interconnections between physical processes and biological processes and explores the idea of mental maps of birthplaces, water having memory and layers of communication through water.

Elaine experiments with saltworks to reflect the beauty and fragility of our ocean ecosystems that is evocative; beautiful and ephemeral. Puffins are a red-listed species, with climate change as a major threat. The saltworks explore perception of time, connectivity, climate regulation and changing states.  The growth of the crystals in solution and their eventual degradation remind us that energy is neither created nor destroyed; rather is a transformational cyclic process. Elaine builds structures to experiment with surfaces and high salinity baths. Using different types of salts, water, solution, temperature and light Elaine explores the texture, structure and growth of the salt crystals. Elaine manipulates crystal growth and creates pathways to allow drawing the patterns of the natural world, using the salt to draw on paper, canvas and in space.

The birds’ flight and diving movements, relating to the depth of the sea, are transformed through the crystallisation artmaking process, seemingly encapsulating the forces of nature. Moreover, multiple experiments revealed the dominance of repeating patterns in the salt crystal formations and also the bathymetric data, which highlighted the self-similarity of nature at different scales. The crystal structures analogous to topography, the building of matter, minerals, layers of sediment over time denote a kind of memory. Elaine projects the movement data visulaisations as light on saltworks, illuminating textures. As with the changing nature of the ocean, these crystal structures are temporary, dissolving, evaporating: reinforcing ephemerality. The solution and the crystals may be recycled and grown again, with state changes from water solution to air, evaporation, in a constant cycle. 


Elaine has partnered with world-leading conservation charity the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) exploring satellite data that enables scientists to perceive the movement of animals, and the environment which they inhabit in new and exciting ways. Collaborating with satellite data analytics company Space Intelligence and Ray Interactive data visualisations are created that display signatures in time by creating portraits of flight. Elaine sought to capture the dynamic and hitherto hidden aspects of these birds’ lives – travelling great distances across the open sea to hunt, and returning to their burrows by night to avoid predators.

Elaine ford

Elaine is a visual artist working in mixed media, glass sculpture, installation and painting. With a BSc in Biology with Ecology (integrating MSc Tropical Biodiversity), and a BA in Fine Art with Digital Crafting in Glass from Edinburgh College of Art. Elaine is exploring the interplay between science, technological innovation, biodiversity conservation and adventure. Her work focuses on the creation of immersive experiences that transport the viewer to remote locations, to engage with wild landscapes, diverse cultures and rare species. In collaboration with Wild Immersion, she has exhibited immersive content in Paris, Los Angeles, at Burning Man and at home in Edinburgh. These film and photographic techniques are developing her practice in time-based art. Elaine is currently developing a long-term project exploring the application of 360 film-making techniques in the Okavango Delta, to help diverse communities around the world experience wildlife up-close and engage with the latest conservation issues.

With thanks to:

  • Royal Society Protection of Birds (RSPB) – Global Positioning Data (GPS) Puffin data and puffin behaviour support. Data collection part-funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund
  • Space Intelligence – Data Visualisation – ‘Portraits of Flight’
  • Ray Interactive – Data Visualisation – ‘Puffin signatures’
  • collaborative working with experts and in experimenting with new methods of art processes and making.


With thanks to Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), Space Agency, Ray Interactive, European Space Agency, General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO)