Monday, 27 December 2010

Temporary winter quarters

It was -2°C in the studio yesterday; the water in my plate-rinsing bowl had frozen over. That’s the coldest it’s been in there so far this winter (when I’ve wanted to work anyway) and even with the heater on, it’s not warm enough to ink up. So, I have decamped to the kitchen and utility room for the time being, with swift sorties to the studio to print.

I finished a plate yesterday which is satisfying; it’s taken me just over two months which is quite fast for me so I’m pleased with that too. My big problem is that I work so slowly, partly because I just don’t get much time to spend on my artwork these days. Or write blog posts; when was the last one…?

I’m glad this particular plate is finished because having worked on aluminium for the last few months, I can now go back to zinc which I prefer. This particular plate has come out peculiarly speckly in comparison with other aluminium plates I’ve worked on (see image with blog post dated 13 October 2010) and I have absolutely no idea why. Does aluminium have a ‘grain’? With zinc, I find I can get much cleaner lines and more variety of tone and texture. Shame it’s so much more expensive and not so easy to source and cut. Aluminium is great in that respect.

Well, that’ll be the last plate of the year; a very good time to finish it. Time now to reflect on what I’ve achieved over the last year and what’s coming up in the next. Some exciting firsts on the horizon for me - looking forward to it.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Create from a place of no-mind

A friend lent me a book recently – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I’m not entirely sure where I stand with this fellow. He has some interesting things to say but I don’t like the way he writes (too mystical) and I’m uncomfortable with the way he’s set himself up as a kind of spiritual teacher. His ideas are drawn from many different religions and philosophies including Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism and the Bible. He talks a lot about mindfulness which I have a great interest in but there are other writers I prefer on this topic; Jon Kabat-Zinn and Russ Harris for example.

I thought I would share this excerpt about creativity from Tolle’s book which relates back to my posts Art practice as meditation? (May) and Doing non-doing (June).

‘The mind is essentially a survival machine. Attack and defense against other minds, gathering, storing, and analysing information – this is what it is good at, but it is not at all creative. All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness. The mind then gives form to the creative impulse or insight. Even the great scientists have reported that their creative breakthroughs came at a time of mental quietude. The surprising result of a nation-wide inquiry among America’s most eminent mathematicians, including Einstein, to find out their working methods, was that thinking “plays only a subordinate part in the brief, decisive phase of the creative act itself.” So I would say that the simple reason why the majority of scientists are not creative is not because they don’t know how to think but because they don’t know how to stop thinking!’

The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Bridget Riley: Flashback

I had an interesting afternoon at Southampton City Art Gallery taking in the Bridget Riley exhibition, Bridget Riley: Flashback. The show covers work from the early 60s up to more or less present day and includes some of her preparatory studies. These, many of which were plotted out on graph paper, took me right back to my to my student days at art school when most of my images were created using mathematical systems. Whereas the other students could be seen carrying sketchbooks, I was usually brandishing a pad of graph paper. Very different from the kind of work I’m making now.

There was a selection of books on Riley for browsing at the exhibition; ten or twelve with her customary op art images on the front. I was immediately drawn to the one with a conte sketch of a woman on the front. It seems that Riley was an ardent portrtaitist and spent her three years at Goldsmiths drawing, drawing, drawing from life. Although her work changed direction dramatically in the early 60s when she began to produce the sort of images she is so well known for, this early experience of looking and drawing has been crucial to the way she has worked throughout her career.

'A great deal is involuntary. At best the drawing seems to unfold
on the paper almost by itself, the hand being directly guided by the eye. Drawing is an exercise in looking: one finds out what can being seen and at the same time one finds oneself having to organise the visual and emotional information extracted. How to sort out and clarify this confusing wealth?'

Bridget Riley, From Life

Cataract 3, 1967

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Less swilling, more forming

I’ve a lot of ideas about my artwork swilling around in my head at the moment; swilling but not forming properly, which probably means my work needs to change direction. Portraits seem to be where I’m at right now but I’m still very much drawn to narrative images. As The Undertaker’s Nuptials seems to have stalled (temporarily I hope), I’m thinking about how I can work narrative into straight portraiture. This has lead me to consider how we all have our own personal stories; who we are, where we’ve come from, what’s shaped us, what’s important to us, where we’re going and so on.

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment – Portraiture by Shearer West. How about this:

‘Portraits are not just likenesses but works of art that engage with ideas of identity as they are perceived, represented, and understood in different times and places. ‘Identity’ can encompass the character, personality, social standing, relationships, profession, age, and gender of the portrait subject. These qualities are not fixed but are expressive of the expectations and circumstances of the time the portrait was made. These aspects of identity cannot be reproduced, but they can only be suggested or evoked. Thus although portraits depict individuals, it is often the typical or conventional – rather than unique – qualities of the subject that are stressed by the artist, as demonstrated in Holbein’s George Gisze. Portraiture has also been subject to major changes in artistic practice and convention. Even though most portraits retain some degree of verisimilitude, they are nonetheless products of prevailing artistic fashions and favoured styles, techniques, and media. Portraiture is thus a vast art category that offers a rich range of engagements with social, psychological, and artistic practices and expectations.’

Less swilling, more forming.

Image: Hans Holbein the Younger, George Gisze, 1532

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

It lives...!

Last week was a productive week. Not only did I finish a plate I’d been working on for far too long, but my website redesign was completed and the new site went live. The latter was courtesy of the excellent Martin Davis of The final result is quite different to how I originally envisaged it – and much better I think.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Green Door International Print Exchange 2010

Last week, I was really excited to receive my package from Green Door Print Studio in Derby containing prints by ten other participants in the exchange. This is the first time I’ve taken part and only the second year the exchange has been running; 103 printmakers from 11 different countries took part.

I’ve participated in other exchanges but this one has been the best so far, partly because it’s so well organised and professionally presented. The standard of work is high too. A particularly useful aspect is the personalised insert within the folio detailing whose prints I’ve received and who my prints have been sent to. Well done and thank you to the Johnson family for all their hard work.

I received prints from Candice Perry, Chris Rollins, Gina Louthian-Stanley, Judith G Leppert, Julianna Joos, Kirsten Kinnear, Michelle Keegan and Pat Crombie. These should be available to view on the exchange website shortly.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Printing for Etsy

The last couple of weeks have been enjoyably busy in a printmakerly way. I spent a large part of the bank holiday weekend holed up in the studio looking through packaged prints and printing older plates to ‘stock’ my Etsy shop. I rarely revisit old plates, even though I haven’t printed the whole edition, but it was quite fun relearning the plates… remembering where to wipe more for cleaner whites, where to let the ink sit for a richer tone, which to tonk before pulling the final print. No sales on Etsy yet but a couple of my prints have been included in treasuries (these are themed collections of items for sale which Etsy members put together and publish on the site; a little help with advertising has to be a good thing).

I also had a meeting with a web designer to discuss revamping my website – get me! That made me really think about my target audience and the message I want to give. I learnt some useful stuff about marketing and how the web works so I’m all fired up to get the overhaul underway.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Summer's almost over

It seems that summer is nearly over; there’s definitely something autumnal about the early mornings now. As we’re preparing for the start of a new academic year, and as I’ve had a seriously uncreative summer, this feels like a good time to review where I’m at with my printmaking projects.

Production has been slow over the last year or so, partly owing to learning new techniques and partly by experiencing a creative bottleneck (there’s also that little thing called life which tends to get in the way too). I’ve not taken up so many exhibiting opportunities this year so I’m feeling the need to focus on getting my work out there.

Two things which have been on my To Do list for some time are overhauling my website and setting up an Etsy shop. The first I’m going to need some help with but the second I’ve already made a start on. The shop is set up and I’ve listed a couple of prints already. Now comes the fun part of seeing what else I have in stock and what needs printing. Who knows if I’ll make any sales but I’ve nothing to lose in trying.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Painting is good for me...

It was a varied couple of days in the studio this weekend. I spent time working on an etching (printing and aquatinting) and did some layout and design on a leaflet for a friend who’s just going into business; two quite different activities.

I also threw some painting into the mix. A big box of oil paints and gesso arrived on Friday, so on Sunday, I started a self portrait (24” by 18”). It was a very interesting experience. I don’t like what I produced but considering it’s been about 23 years since I last painted (and never in oils), it could have been a lot worse! A portrait was maybe a little ambitious to start with but it’s what I’m drawn to (pardon the pun).

My etchings are predominantly monochrome so using colour will be good practice for me. I enjoyed the freedom and immediacy of mixing the paint and moving it around on the gessoed surface, being able to build up layers so quickly. The etching process takes so long – which I quite enjoy – but it made a pleasant change to be able to work swiftly with the paint.

Even though this was very much a practice piece, I want to work on it some more, playing with colour and light and dark. I was surprised to find this afternoon that most of the paint is dry already, just two days after it was painted. I was expecting it to take much longer. My knowledge of the technicalities of oil painting is virtually non-existent so steep learning curve ahead.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Diverting from my core business

Just recently, I’ve developed a strong desire to paint. Odd because in the last six years, I’ve been rather stubborn about NOT painting, seeing myself as a hardcore printmaker and nothing else. Short-sighted I admit; several people have told me lately that painting would help my etching, especially now that I’m using aquatint in quite a painterly way. I blame my old adversary, time – there never seems to be enough of it for printmaking, never mind painting.

I’m not sure exactly what’s triggered this urge to paint. There have been a number of contributing factors I think. Recently I taught a portrait drawing class to twenty-five or so members of a local art society which was great fun and took me outside printmaking. My students obviously enjoyed it too as I have been asked to do some more sessions with them. I’ve been looking at a lot of painters too of late – or should I say relooking. They’re all artists whose work I’ve admired for years; Lucian Freud, Caravaggio, Stuart Luke Gatherer. The cream of international portrait painting is now on show at the BP Portrait Awards which has just opened at the National Portrait Gallery (it’ll be interesting to see if visitor numbers are lower this year). And of course there’s dear old Flagstaff Jim feverishly painting away out there in the Arizona desert; a constant source of inspiration for me.

I love etching and still have much to learn and master, but I think part of the painting urge has to do with size. I’m limited in how big I can work by my press and I think I want to work really large for a change. My head is reasoning with my intuition and says that practically, it’s not a good thing to do (time, space, cost…) but my intuition says do it. And as I’ve decided (rationally of course) that I need to listen to the latter more, it’s time to head off to buy paint.

Top: Self-Portrait: Reflection, Lucian Freud, 2002
Middle: Lucian Freud
Bottom: Decisions, Stuart Luke Gatherer

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Doing non-doing

Following on from my Art practice as meditation? post, I thought I’d share a passage of the book I’m reading at the moment – Wherever You Go, There You Are by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn.

‘Non-doing has nothing to do with being indolent or passive. Quite the contrary. It takes great courage and energy to cultivate non-doing, both in stillness and activity. Nor is it easy to make a special time for non-doing and to keep at it in the face of everything in our lives which needs to be done.

But non-doing doesn’t have to be threatening to people who feel they always have to get things done. They might find they get even more “done,” and done better, by practicing non-doing. Non-doing simply means letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way. Enormous effort can be involved, but it is a graceful, knowledgeable, effortless effort, a “doerless doing,” cultivated over a lifetime.

Effortless activity happens at moments in dance and in sports at the highest levels of performance; when it does, it takes everybody’s breath away. But it also happens in every area of human activity, from painting to car repair to parenting. Years of practice and experience combine on some occasions, giving rise to a new capacity to let execution unfold beyond technique, beyond exertion, beyond thinking. Action then becomes a pure expression of art, of being, of letting go of all doing – a merging of mind and body in motion. We thrill in watching a superb performance, whether athletic or artistic, because it allows us to participate in the magic of true mastery, to be uplifted, if only briefly, and perhaps to share in the intention that each of us, in our own way, might touch such moments of grace and harmony in the living of our own lives.’

Monday, 31 May 2010

The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers Annual Exhibition

I sloshed my way up to the Bankside Gallery in London on Saturday to have a look at the annual RE show which was as rich and varied as always. It’s a bit of a two-edged sword for me because I find it inspiring and motivating but at the same time, a bit depressing as it reminds me of how little time I get to work on my art.

A print that really caught my eye was Decadensian by Frederick Morris, a newly-elected student member of the Society. This large etching and aquatint appealed to my penchant for atmosphere and narrative. It reminded me of an updated version of Hogarth’s Gin Lane although rather darker and more chaotic if that can be imagined.

During the duration of the show, several of the participants have given demonstrations of their particular medium; Angie Lewin and Gail Brodholt were giving linocut and wood engraving demos on Saturday. Still to come are demonstrations in linocutting, wood engraving and etching by Roy Willingham, Daphne Casdagli and Kate Dicker. The show ends on Sunday 6 June.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Art practice as meditation?

I’ve developed an interest in meditation recently. This had nothing to do with my art making initially; it was in response to the emotional and physical strain of over two years of caring for elderly parents with dementia whilst trying to juggle the day job as a children’s social care data analyst, make art, run a home and have a social life. Throw in the countless other things that have to be dealt with and it leaves my brain feeling a little fried at times, something that a lot of people can sympathise with I’m sure. Life for most people these days is hectic at best.

I’m not sure what lead me to meditation but having read up a bit, there’s a lot of research which seems to suggest it’s a good thing for emotional, mental and physical health. My main aim is to find space to calm my mind and therefore help it to function better in day-to-day life. I’m not by nature a patient person, so this is going to be a test of my discipline and perseverance; there won’t be a miraculous overnight improvement.

I’ve been reading about brain activity in relation to meditation. There are four kinds of brainwaves apparently; alpha, beta, delta and theta. As I understand it, the mind is in a beta brainwave state most of the day when we are awake and active; thinking, talking, dealing with a huge range of stimuli and abstract thoughts about the past and future. These are the fastest brainwaves. Alpha brainwaves are slower; the mind is in this state when relaxed but still alert. We are receptive; not thinking but sensing, feeling and very much in the moment. Meditation induces this brainwave state apparently. Delta and theta brainwaves relate to sleep.

Where does this fit in with art practice? Over the years, I’ve had a number of conversations with people about what’s going through my mind when I’m working on a plate or a drawing. It sounds rather esoteric and a bit tree-hugging but the only way I’ve been able to describe it is as an almost zen-like state where I’m not really thinking about anything, just focusing on the artwork. I don’t think I even really think about what I’m working on; it’s almost as if my hands are working automatically. Thoughts come and go but I’m not really aware of them. As I said above, I’m not a patient person and the thought of starting a new piece of work can be daunting; and yet, when I’m working on a plate, I find I can work on a small area for hours without any kind of fatigue or irritation. It takes as long as it takes. In fact, I find it peaceful and restful. So I’m assuming that my mind must be in an alpha brainwave state and therefore in the same state as it would be during meditation. This is a very good thing and I obviously need to find time (somehow) to do more of it!

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Undertaker's Nuptials: the Datamonger

‘Good morning Mr Spearman!’

As the clatter of the shop door closing subsided, all rattling glass and jangling bells, a behatted head appeared above the counter.

‘Ah. Miss Moir.’

‘I have some choice samples for you today Mr Spearman.’ Lycoris Moir reached inside her oversized gabardine and pulled out her notebook with a flourish. The pages flapped and a fine shower of what one would imagine was dust fluttered out and tumbled in the air, catching the sunlight. Instinctively Spearman went to reach forward, then checked himself.

‘Careful Miss Moir, you’ll be spoiling the contraband.’ Spearman’s boot-button eyes blinked rapidly; he appeared nervous.

‘Nonsense Mr Spearman! Contraband indeed! This is a perfectly legitimate service we perform. If only people knew Mr Spearman, if only people knew. They would thank us. Indeed.’ The datamonger looked doubtful and noticing some coppery specks on the glass counter, snatched a cloth from somewhere behind him and rubbed quickly at the glass. It left a smear. Beneath lay large enamel trays containing numbers; some made of copper, some brass, and of varying sizes, piled up just anyhow.

‘I hear Mr Wheelwright’s had a busy week,’ Spearman stuffed the cloth into the back pocket of his trousers and manoeuvred his bulk around Lycoris and hurried to the door. He pushed across the two bolts and let slip the catch so that the door was locked and turned the open sign around to read CLOSED to any potential customers. He scuttled back round Lycoris, who had remained where she was, unmoved by his obvious unease, and towards a doorway at the back of the shop. Spearman drew aside the beaded curtain and extended a hand towards Lycoris, a beckoning gesture.

‘Do come through Miss Moir.’

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Datamonger

As mentioned in my previous post, I was able to spend quite a large portion of the Easter weekend working on my Green Door print exchange submission; the Datamonger. This image came about as a result of a conversation I had with Georgia, fellow data analyst. I’d been telling her about a trip to the local fishmonger (what exciting lives we lead!) and she decided that as data analysts-cum-statisticians, we are datamongers.

I don’t know whether it was because I had a more sustained period of time in the studio over the weekend, which stimulated my creativity generally, but The Undertaker’s Nuptials is underway again. The Datamonger, purveyor of rare and exotic numerals, has entered the narrative now so more images are on the way.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A printmaker's Easter

The few days over the bank holiday weekend have been quite intensely printmakerish and really rather good. As well as getting plenty of studio time to work on my Green Door print exchange submission (more on that later), I was able to see Urban Evolution, an exhibition of prints by Anne Desmet at St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Lymington. It’s an intimate space, ideal for her linocuts, wood engravings and collages, most of which focus on architectural themes. That’s an extremely inadequate way to describe the exhibition - Anne Desmet takes wood engraving to a whole new level – but I think I need to digest the exhibition catalogue before I can say more.

Today at Red Hot Press, I had the opportunity to see a demonstration of a new etching ground developed by Andrew Baldwin at Aberystwyth University. Sarah heard about the ground at last year’s Impact conference in Bristol and has been using it since with good results. The beauty of this ground is that it doesn’t give off unpleasant fumes like other liquid hard grounds and is therefore safer to use – a big plus for educational establishments and open access workshops. It doubles as a hard and soft ground too. It’s rolled onto the plate like ink and at this point can be used as a soft ground, or bake it on the hot plate for half an hour and you have a hard ground. It’s red instead of the traditional brown which makes working on and etching the plate easier too. Sarah’s not sure if it’s available commercially yet but she gives it the thumbs up so I hope to give it a go sometime soon.

Image: Anne Desmet, Deserted Pool VMB, linocut 2007

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Originals 10

I paid my annual visit to the Mall Galleries on Saturday for
Originals 10, the top UK open exhibition for contemporary printmaking in which works by em
erging talent hang along side those of established printmakers and members of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers. Virtually every printmaking technique is covered from etching (check out Martin Ridgwell and Mychael Barratt), wood engraving (Hilary Paynter was on excellent form as usual), linocuts (Gail Brodholdt and Angie Lewin) and mezzotints (Martin Langford) to collagraphs, screenprints, digital and lasercut works.

In past years the show has felt a bit samey; same people showing the same kind of work, but this year, there seemed to be much more of a range of techniques and styles. In Venetian Diary III, Mila Furstova had wrapped her etchings of Venetian buildings in sheets of clear acetate covered in handwritten text, rolled into tubes. Jenny Smith’s Circles II and Circles IV are laser cut screen prints, combining a traditional printmaking technique with the relatively new technology of laser cutting. Carol Hensher specialises on printing on fabric; My fingers grasp at floating feathers comprises four white silk evening gloves with hands printed on them using lithographic methods. Fiona Hepburn cuts out hundreds of tiny woodcut and screen prints and fixes them in clusters using pins to create intricate fungal and bacterial forms.

My own tastes are more traditional; I find myself drawn to figurative works with something of a narrative in them. Personal favourites were Jessie Brennan’s Six Boys, Catherine Anne Hiley’s Untitled I (Dietrich) and Untitled III (Orhan), and Katherine Jones’s Magenta Strip. These are just a few; in a show like Originals, there are so many prints to look at it can be quite overwhelming.

Whilst there, we had the pleasant surprise of bumping into Katherine Anteney, one of the directors of Red Hot Press Printmaking Workshop here in Southampton. She made an interesting comment that the show was very ‘black and white’ this year; more monochrome prints than in previous years maybe. Presumably that was just the way the selection went but it would be interesting to know if the selectors were aware of this at the time. And speaking of Red Hot Press, our very own Wendy Couchman, one of the members, had a print included – congratulations Wendy!

All in all, it was a really interesting show this year, well worth a visit. Shall look forward to Originals 11.

Katherine Jones, Magenta Strip
Catherine Anne Hiley, Untitled III (Orhan)
Jessie Brennan, Six Boys

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Aluminium versus zinc

On Tuesday, I paid a visit to Metal Supermarkets here in Southampton in search of zinc plate. It was my first visit as I usually get my plates from printmaking suppliers but I was after some tricky sizes. Sarah and Katherine, who run Red Hot Press, mostly use aluminium for etching and source it there so I thought I’d give it a go. No solid zinc sadly, just Zintec sheet which is mild steel electro-coated with zinc apparently. Not sure how thick the coating is but I would imagine it doesn’t bear too much reworking before you’re down to the steel. I bought some aluminium instead - never tried it before but Sarah gets good results with it - and it was much cheaper than equivalent sized plates from printmaking suppliers. Bonus.

Was lucky enough to squeeze a couple of studio hours in this afternoon, between the chores, family stuff and general domestic flim-flam, so prepared a couple of small test plates for line work and aquatinting. I’m still getting a grip on how aquatinting works on zinc so this probably isn’t the best time to be experimenting with a new material, but there we are. And the aluminium does indeed feel and look very different to zinc when etched. It seems to take a lot longer to bite in the copper sulphate solution and the marks left around the particles of resin look very different too. Even the inking and wiping feels different and the weight and density of the plate in the hand. Odd how familiar one can get with (and attached to I suppose) the feel of a piece of metal.

The photos show the difference between pine resin aquatint on aluminium (top) and zinc (bottom).

Thursday, 18 March 2010

An experiment in burnishing

I’ve always wanted to have a go at mezzotinting; I love the soft, velvety quality which can be quite ethereal at times. I don’t fancy rocking my own plates though and my burnishing skills need improving so, for practice, I’ve aquatinted a plate and bitten it all over. This gave me a grey surface to start with and allowed me to burnish the image up.

A recent life drawing gave me a fairly simple form to start off with as I didn’t want to do anything too detailed (hence the headless torso!). It’s quite hard to see what you’re doing actually; I don’t know whether it’s easier on a mezzotint but it’s a bit trial and error on my aquatinted plate.

I don’t think I left the plate in the etch long enough though – I’d like to try again and bite it darker next time so I can get a better range of tone. I shall continue to tinker with this plate, maybe bite it again. That’s the great thing about etching, you can keep reworking the plate. Etching rocks.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

An art-filled week

Although last week was a bad one domestically (leaky pipes and plumbers – AGAIN), it was a good week for art. There was life drawing on Saturday - poses inspired by Degas’s intimate paintings of women going about their daily rituals; studio time on Sunday; an intaglio supervised practice session at the workshop on Tuesday which was fun – three people using four different techniques (as technician/facilitator, that kept me on my toes!); on Wednesday I gave someone at work some advice about drawing and critiqued a portrait he was working on, and on Saturday, I received an email from Green Door Printmaking Studio in Derby announcing this year’s international print exchange. A delightfully varied week – rare these days. If only there could be more like those!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Self-imposed exile

Returning from some time away, it’s amazing how quickly a week of peace and quiet relaxation can be wiped out when one steps back into the fray! It was a restful week though, out in the middle of the New Forest with just the birds, squirrels, horses, the odd deer and very patchy mobile phone signal. I recommend it.

I had planned to do some drawing and writing whilst away but didn’t get around to either. And that’s fine (she says, trying not to beat herself up for wasting all that potential creative time) because the purpose of the week was to wind down from a gruelling couple of years, the first proper break in that time.

I did read a book about creativity however. It isn’t the greatest book by any means (a bit cheesy and RIDDLED with typos) but it gave me one or two things to think about. The author makes the point that it is essential for us to express our creativity in order to lead fulfilling lives and not to feel impoverished mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Whilst this may be obvious to those who spend a significant proportion of their time creating in one form or another, I don’t think it hurts to be reminded every now and then; especially for those of us who don’t make a living from our art. Life – the day job, family, caring responsibilities, socialising – can so easily squeeze out creativity and make one feel guilty for spending time on it.

Incidentally, it was a year ago today I started my blog. A lot has happened creatively over the last year. The original intention was to use the blog to document my progress in wood engraving but somehow, that was hijacked by me setting up my own etching studio, a significant and rather marvellous change in direction. This gave me the opportunity to start using and experiment with pine resin as an aquatint, courtesy of Jim Spence, printmaker extraordinaire and master of the monoprint. This has moved my work forward significantly and has helped me achieve some of the tonal and textural qualities I was getting from card cuts. Still a long way for me to go to really get to grips with it but I’m already getting some interesting results.

The year was also quite a busy one for exhibiting; two US print exchanges, Printmakers Cut 3 in Chichester, Hampshire Open Studios and best of all, I had work selected for the international printmaking conference, IMPACT 6 in Bristol. A hectic year creatively, considering everything else that was going on. I think this year will be quieter; one in which I hope to concentrate on improving my aquatinting skills and progress some more narrative work. Always plenty to think about!

Friday, 12 February 2010

The Aphasiac's Dictionary

Aphasia is a strange condition which, without first-hand experience, I would have struggled to understand I think. Briefly, it’s the impairment of the language centre in the brain by stroke or other injury. It can manifest in many different ways; some people lose all speech, some can speak but not read or write (or vice versa), some may be able to sing but not speak, others who have been fluently bilingual, may be able to speak one language but not the other. These are just a few examples.

The form with which I am in daily contact is paraphasia where the speaker (my mother) substitutes the correct word with another, such as ‘tight’ for dressing gown. Sometimes she makes up words, for example ‘petcher’ when meaning crispy. This can lead to some very odd combinations of words and bizarre sentences which range from making no sense at all to strangely apt. Instead of saying ‘the doctors are thinking’, she said, ‘the sailors are oberating’. You can imagine how tangled and protracted conversations can be; frustrating for both parties. I have been trying to capture as many of the more interesting words and phrases but sometimes they come so thick and fast I can’t catch them all. Twitter and facebook are ideal for this; wherever we are, I can just fire off a text and it’s there on the net for me to pick up later.

As artists, we draw inspiration from so many different sources, not least from that which is around us. Maybe then, it’s only natural to try to find a creative outlet for some of this stuff, especially as most of my work involves words in one way or another. I don’t know what form the Aphasiac’s Dictionary will take visually yet but I think the words will be incorporated into the images somehow. There will also be some pieces of narrative; again no firm ideas as yet. Meanwhile, the compiling goes on.

Sunday, 31 January 2010


I did a four hour life drawing session yesterday; I’d forgotten how tiring that can be. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected as the model is a local burlesque artist and had one of her show outfits on most of the time (fishnet stockings aren’t the easiest thing to draw, so I didn’t try!). It was a useful exercise though, in that it made me sit down and draw what was in front of me for a concentrated period of time.

I’ve been asked by a local art society to lead a session on portraiture, specifically drawn portraits, which has made me think much more about what I do - and about the nature of portraiture. As the session will be fairly short, we’ll be concentrating on the traditional concept of a portrait, the head and face, but it can be so much more than that; the full figure, the things the subject has around him or her and the spaces he or she occupies. These can enrich the work by giving the viewer greater insight into the subject’s character and life. Maybe it’s not even necessary to have the person in the image at all. A few years ago I made a series of prints based on characters from Dickens’s Bleak House. One of these was entitled ‘Mr Jellyby’ and is in fact a ‘portrait’ of him. The man himself is absent from the image however.

‘"And how is your mama, Caddy?" said I.

"Why, I hear of her, Esther," replied Caddy, "through Pa, but I see very little of her. We are good friends, I am glad to say, but Ma thinks there is something absurd in my having married a dancing-master, and she is rather afraid of its extending to her."

It struck me that if Mrs. Jellyby had discharged her own natural duties and obligations before she swept the horizon with a telescope in search of others, she would have taken the best precautions against becoming absurd, but I need scarcely observe that I kept this to myself.

"And your papa, Caddy?"

"He comes here every evening," returned Caddy, "and is so fond of sitting in the corner there that it's a treat to see him."

Looking at the corner, I plainly perceived the mark of Mr. Jellyby's head against the wall. It was consolatory to know that he had found such a resting-place for it.’

This brings up an interesting question around figures in illustrative and narrative work. My niece posed for me as Ginger Nut, a character from a short story by Herman Mellville - Barleby the Scrivener. Is the result print therefore a portrait of Ginger Nut (a boy) or my niece? Or both? Where does the sitter end and the character begin?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Life class

2010 hasn’t started terribly well. January has been hijacked somewhat by inclement weather (sub-zero temperatures in the studio) and parental ill-health so I don’t feel as though the year is really underway yet. Creatively, I’ve been drifting somewhat – Woodwose was a bit of an aside, a detour from the main business of… what? I have many ideas in my head but can’t seem to get any of them to form coherently.

A friend of mine did a life drawing class recently which reminded me of how much I used to enjoy figure drawing (I’ve been concentrating more on portraiture of late). I dug out some of my old sketch books and spent an enjoyable hour looking through them, remembering various life classes and models (piercings in the most uncomfortable places!) and decided that I need to do some more. Most of my work tends to contain figures in one form or another so I think it would be useful to revisit life drawing and remind myself how the human form fits together. One of my art teachers at college used to say that in order for us to understand how clothes fitted over the human body and to be able to draw or paint them convincingly, we ought to study the human figure unclothed. So, I’ve booked myself on a session in a couple of weeks at local establishment The Art House; can’t wait!