Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Year of Solar Plate

Having reviewed Cowprint's year, it makes sense to look back at my own creative achievements during 2013.

Creatively, the year got off to a slow start as the chickens were keeping me busy with mycoplasmosis, eye operations and feather-plucking, as well as the usual round of mucking out ans feeding etc, so I didn't really get back to printmakung until March. We had dates in May for our first Cowprint exhibition, Imprint, so that spurred me on as I felt that as founder and chair of the group, I ought to produce a new image. Our first session of the year had been a New Year, Old Project session where we had dug out images on which we had got stuck and bounced new ideas around. This was particularly successful for me as got this image going again and finished.

'Roll on civvie life!'  Etching and aquatint

There was a lot to organised for the exhibition and private view; advertising, the hanging, list of works, drinks, sales sheets, browsers etc. All good experience though and the exhibition looked great.  

My next project was to make my edition of 25 prints for the 20:20 print exchange run by Hot Bed Press in Salford. I've not done this project before and it's been a while since I made such a large edition (I'm not a great fan of editioning), but actually, I really enjoyed the whole process. I only pulled a couple of duff prints which signalled to me that my printing skills are vastly improved since my last biggish edition. The spit bite element of this image worked quite well too; need to explore this further.

Alektorophobia - etching, aquatint and spit bite

I've been feeling for some time now that my work needed to change direction; move on as it was feeling a little stagnant. I'd been thinking about adding extra elements, diagramatic elements and layering so in June, I did the solar plate weekend course at Red Hot Press as I thought this technique might help me speed up my processes. What a revelation! Solar plate gave me exactly what I needed in that I can use it in conjunction with etching and drypoint, printed intaglio and / or relief. The plates are quick to make and the quality of the detail is so good, I can use it to make images that would take me ages to etch and wouldn't give the effect I'm after. Here's the two-plate print I made on the course, one printed intaglio, the other relief.

'Singing Masons' - two-plate solar plate print

After that, work began in earnest on the Cowprint calendar image, a panicked combination of solar plate and drypoint as I didn't think I had time for an etching. As it happens, it worked out really well. Thank the gods of printmaking for solar plate!
'Io Saturnalia! - solar plate and drypoint print

The organising and marketing of the calendar kept me pretty busy throughout the summer 
and Autumn; it was a new experience for me working on this sort of commercial venture.

During the Summer I had work in three shows; Double Exposure and Spellbound both at Wool House, and the Red Hot Press Summer show during Open Studios. I did some volunteering at Wool House during August which was great - historically interesting and I met some lovely people.

September was all about the calendar but I also managed to squeeze in a quick 3D project - some drypoint on a plastic piggy bank for the charity fundraiser Go Pig! It was a bit last minute so didn;t work out as well as hoped... I'd quite like to try something similar again though in the interests of getting my prints 'out of the frame' so to speak. More thought needed about this.

Homage to Francis Bacon - drypoint on plastic piggy bank

In November my December print hung alongside my fellow Cowprinters' calendar prints at Red Hot Press for Printer Wonderland; it was sell, sell, sell those calendars! The d.@rt Centre Christmas Fayre at the beginning of December was another first for me. Again, lots to organise but good experience.

In between all the calendar and pre-Christmas hustle and bustle, I still managed to find time to work on my last print of the year, The Chicken Murderer. In this print I was able to combine etching with solar plate for the first time in a two plate print - most satisfying. I've been using more colour this year too... not consciously, it's just the way the work has gone. This too is a good thing.

The Chicken Murderer - Etching, aquatint and solar plate

So, 2013 was a very productive year full of new ventures and exciting developments and I am very happy with the way my work is travelling. Time now to think about planning for 2014.

Friday, 27 December 2013

A year in Cowprint

It’s inevitable, I suppose, that at this time of year, one is drawn to reflect on the year coming to a close. That post-Christmas / pre-New Year week, where everything is so out of the usual routine, is an ideal time to review the events of the previous year and plan for the next.

Cowprint isn’t yet two (we celebrate the group’s second birthday in February) but 2013 has been a great year. We had our first exhibition, Imprint, at the d.@rt Centre in May and high on its success, embarked straightaway on producing the Cowprint 2014 calendar. Lovely prints together with Irene’s stylish layout produced a really professional and marketable object which has sold really well (still a few left if anyone wants one!). It also forced us to choose a name for the group, something we’d been finding somewhat difficult (Cowprint comes from Cattle Market by the way, the building which is now home to Red Hot Press).


At the end of November, Red Hot Press held its annual Christmas event, Printer Wonderland. We were able to display the original calendar prints together and of course, the calendars were on sale along with the prints, framed and unframed. And just a week later, the group had its own stall at the d.@rt Centre Christmas Fayre selling prints, calendars, cards, handmade books, gift tags, paper lanterns and Christmas decorations. We were able to spread to two tables which were crammed with an abundance of lovely papery things.

So, Cowprint, which started as a group of artists meeting to share their work and ideas, has evolved this year. Of course, sharing our work is still at the heart of what we do, but now, we have the added motivation of group projects and small commercial ventures. Our next collaboration and first of 2014 is already decided so here’s hoping it will be as enjoyable and successful a year as 2013.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Finished at last

What do the Christmas holidays mean to me? More studio time! The Chicken Murderer is finished (although I need to take some good prints on good paper). I decided it needed something to link the fox and the chicken foot, hence the barbed wire. I also felt a lighter background would work better.

So, here he is in all his bitey ferociousness. Next project already under way...

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The First Cut - paper at the cutting edge

The First Cut is a must-see for printmakers, paper cutters and any artist who uses paper as their base medium. A touring exhibition curated by Manchester Art Gallery, it includes paper cuts and sculptures by Andy Singleton, paper cuts by Rob Ryan, sculptures by Susan Stockwell, Justine Smith, Claire Brewster and Andreas Kocks amongst others, plus a wonderful animation, Going West by Anderson M Studio. These are just a few of the 30 artists who work with paper in unique and inspiring ways to transform it into amazing and beautiful works of art, minute to enormous, displayed in the gallery at the SeaCity Museum here in Southampton.

I think the piece that really blew me away was Andy Singleton's Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula, a great, towering black plume of swirling paper suspended from the ceiling, casting the most wonderful shadows on the wall behind. Fabulous.

This exhibition is a real treat for those of us who work with paper; we're not likely to see a show as diverse and comprehensive as this for some time I would imagine, so go see it before it closes on 12 January.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Cowprint’s first craft fayre

Last Saturday, we spent the day touting our wares at the d.@rtCentre Christmas Fayre. This is the first time Cowprint has had a presence at an event like this so it was an exciting new experience. We had a wide range of handmade, paper-based items for sale; prints, cards, lanterns, notebooks, Christmas decorations, bookmarks, gift tags... Fortunately (for us anyway), the person who was supposed to occupy the table next to ours didn’t turn up so we were able to expand and create a really lovely display (mostly thanks to Irene).
There were plenty of people browsing but not so many waving cash at us so takings weren’t great, a sign of the times perhaps. Of the sales we did make, cards seemed to be the most popular. It was a jolly atmosphere though with the other stalls offering jewellery, textiles, cakes etc. There were also children’s activities, a raffle and a choir, just like the fayres I remember as a child, so although we didn't make a great deal of money, I think we all had an enjoyable day.


Friday, 29 November 2013


I keep thinking that this frenetic pace of life must surely slow down at some point; get such-and-such thing out of the way and it should go quiet for a bit. Who am I trying to kid. Something unexpected always crops up to throw my schedule off. This month it's been an overflowing water tank... from the loft through two sets of ceilings and three carpets. Damaged ceilings, damaged walls, sodden carpets... fun. I haven't had a chance to do anything about it yet though, apart from drying everything out of course, because the Aged Parent injured her leg severely shortly after that so after an entire weekend at Accident and Emergency (by way of a flat tyre and a new hearing aid chewed up by the cat), we've been shuttling back and forth to the surgery every few days to have the wound dressed. Now it has become infected so we have antibiotics, more frequent trips to the surgery, INR blood tests and me doing my best waitressing as the Aged P has to keep her leg up as much as possible. 

Despite that, I have mostly managed to get to work, sell Cowprint calendars and fit in a little bit of artwork. The chicken murderer has moved on a little. I made the solar plate but it didn't go terribly well so I've had to cut bits out of it to get it to print better. Also, my etching solution is very much spent so the last bite didn't work out too well. Tasks for this weekend, other factors allowing, are to print the solar plate to see how it's doing and whether it needs more work, mix a new batch of copper sulphate solution and do some more work on the fox himself. He doesn't have enough tonal contrast at the moment so some burnishing back and further etching are needed. Here's hoping nothing else crops up...

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Cowprint calendars are here!

Seems like only yesterday the idea of making a Cowprint calendar was first mooted, but here they are, all printed and ready to sell; brought in on time and under budget. Get us! It took a lot more organising than I anticipated and I’ve had a steep learning curve when it comes to trying to sell them through other businesses but it’s all good experience and we’ll be able to factor these things in next time.
The calendars are on sale at Red Hot Press and The Art House for £7 each.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Grayson Perry: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

I've just finished reading Wendy Jones's biography of Grayson Perry, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl. It's an interesting but oddly written book; constructed in the first person as though the taped conversations, mentioned by Jones at the beginning, have been merely transcribed. I think this must be the case as the language is quite simple - not at all how Perry speaks during interviews about his work. Jones has written a couple of children's books so I wonder if it has been aimed at a younger audience... Or maybe the idea is to give the impression of a therapy session. There is certainly a confessional element to it; Perry talks at length about how his transvesticism developed and the sexual elements of it.

I have great admiration for Perry as an artist (and as a person obviously) and although I found the language somewhat dull and clunky, the content of the book was interesting. It's a fairly brief insight into his early years, through art college (his description of which was so like my own experience it was disturbing) and out the other side to the pottery evening classes he attended. If you want to know what he thinks about art however, you won't really find it here. Listen instead to his Reith Lectures series, Playing to the Gallery, on BBC iPlayer. Brilliant, intelligent, thought-provoking and funny.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Jamie Shovlin at Southampton City Art Gallery

Quite unsettling. I'm torn between bafflement and intrigue... I quite like the idea of his 'misdirecting' the viewer... but then I get all 'what's the point' and 'I don't understand it' and 'I should understand it because I went to an art school which was conceptual art-based' and 'maybe I'm overthinking it' and and and... Go see and make up your own mind.

Art in Glasgow

Glasgow School of Art Library

I've just arrived home from a few days away in Scotland, a very pleasant and welcome break. The main purpose of the trip was to visit a friend who is building a passive house in a small village not far from Perth but we also took the opportunity to explore the area; Perth, Stanley, Blairegowrie, Dunkeld, Birnam and Pitlochry. Beautiful countryside - mountains covered in trees, lochs and rivers with rocky rough water and picturesque old stone buildings. Just as Scotland is shown in all the tourist brochures.

We also went to Glasgow to visit the Glasgow Print Studio which occupies an impressive three stories of a modern building. The ground and first floor are large, airy gallery spaces with the workshop itself housed on the second floor. Other arts organisations such as Project Ability are based on the remaining three floors including a performance space. Sadly we weren't able to look around the print workshop as there was a class going on; maybe next time.

And of course, we had to have a tour round the Glasgow School of Art building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1897. I'm not a huge fan of Mackintosh but was interested to see how well-preserved the building is, being stamped with the designer's signature embellishments right down to the door knobs and lamps. I was also interested to know how the building functions as an art school today with so much of the original layout and features still intact. Sadly, we had a somewhat sanitised view of it (we weren't allowed in the areas where the students work; fair enough I guess) - there was little evidence that it is (or was) a working art school apart from the odd notice board or group list pinned up. The young woman who conducted the tour, a current student, was confident and poised - nothing like I was at that age! The studios we did see housed only marble statuary or were completely empty so it was difficult to get a sense of how cramped the space might have been or the sort of work the students would have made. Having said that, it was interesting and I recommend it to any Mackintosh fans who find themselves in the vicinity.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Chicken murderer update

This image is progressing nicely, although with the second aquatint I lost some contrast with the first. No problem; out with the burnisher to take some areas back and on with another aquatint to darken others. I should probably try printing it in sepia first however... the black may be a bit misleading as the final image will be a foxy red I think.


Tried playing about with some colour to see what it would look like... The blue background won't be plain blue as in this watercolour doodle; need to get down to the workshop for that bit as it's going to be solar plate. It's all going in the right general direction anyway.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Cowprint calendar is coming together!

What a great Cowprint meeting we had on Tuesday evening! It was handing-in day for the calendar images; everyone made the deadline and brought along beautiful images, all very different but all complimenting each other very well indeed. It was a real joy to lay them all out in order, and quite extraordinary how, despite us all going away and doing our own thing, they all flowed from month to month so well. There's a surprising continuity between them which is very pleasing.

Now all that remains to be done is the final scanning and formatting (all thanks to Irene) and it's off to the printer. We're printing just 200 and I'm hoping they will fly off the shelves. If you want one, place your order soon!


Front cover: Tim Watson
June: Ruth Barrett-Danes
December: Jo Price

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Homage to Francis Bacon

I had another creative project on the go this summer, a slightly more unusual one. It was a charity fundraiser called Go Pig!, started by a colleague at work to run in tandem with the Go Rhino! initiative, a community project set up by Marwell Zoo to raise awareness of the conservation issues surrounding rhinos in the wild. Large rhino sculptures were decorated by local artists and placed around Southampton for people to enjoy. And very popular it was too.

Our pigs are somewhat smaller (transparent plastic piggy banks) but all two hundred were distributed swiftly with the brief to decorate and fill with cash by whatever means; this will be donated to the same charities as Go Rhino!.

Something like 70 of the 200 pigs have been decorated so far and photos sent back to my colleague to put on the intranet at work. There are some fabulous creations and pig-related puns abound.

I thought my own contribution ought to have a printmaking element to it so I have made a portrait of Francis Bacon (see what I did there? Groan...) in what is effectively drypoint on one side of the pig. My plan was to shine a strong light through it so the engraved grooves would cast a shadow, showing Bacon's face. As the pig fills with coins (hopefully), the shadow will gradually disappear but the portrait will appear in white on the pig itself. That was my plan. I have got some really great shadows from flat perspex drypoint plates in the past (a useful way to see what the final print might look like) but concave plastic - or is it convex? - that's not so simple. Add to that the fact that the plastic fractured as I engraved it, and the white spirit I used to take the permanent marker drawing off with turned the plastic opaque, and you will understand me when I say that it didn't turn out quite as I had hoped. Not my finest hour... which is somewhat embarrassing as I had a few people telling me they were expecting Great Things from me. We covered a lot of stuff on my Fine Art degree course but decorating plastic piggy banks got missed off the syllabus somehow. Or maybe I was away that day...

Anyway, picture of the shadow above and drypointed side below.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Chicken murderer

Okay. On to the next image. This is for my lovely, cheery, unruly chooks who were untimely despatched by a murderous fox in July. I miss them, even though they trashed the garden and forced me out of bed early on cold winter mornings. And the eggs - oh the eggs... Those I really miss too. Even the best organic ones don't come close.

Anyway, this image will be a two-plate print; etching and aquatint and solar plate. Colour, Texture, line, diagramatic elements... I think my work is moving forward in the way I wanted.

Studio update

Dear me it's been a busy old summer. I've had work in three exhibitions, finished my 20:20 edition, Cowprint calendar print, Go Pig! pig and started on a new image. And in between making cups of coffee for visitors at Wool House and erecting gazebos in the rain for the Red Hot Press Wayzgoose, I've also had the house rewired courtesy of the amiable Simon.

As quiet, tidy and efficient as the aforementioned was, it was three weeks of disruption; much moving of furniture and general 'stuff' from one room to another until there was nowhere left to move it, here in the House of a Thousand Extension Leads. We are more or less done now though, and a good job it is too; well overdue so a massive weight off my mind. Thank you Simon.

I also took the opportunity to have the studio rewired and extra lighting and sockets put in. With a little bit more painting of the walls done, it's really beginning to look like a proper studio. I have much more space to work in now too; major work on property always affords a good opportunity to have a clear out and pass on unwanted items to those who can make use of them. I still had a lot of my dad's machinery and power tools from when he built his aircraft so these now have a new home at the Gosport Men's Shed, newly-founded by Martin Corrick of The Navigation Log fame.

So, with the studio sorted, the calendar image done and almost ready to print, I have no excuse not to get on with making new work and hopefully increase my output a bit. First of all, I think a bit of a sit down is needed...


Monday, 9 September 2013

One out, three in

spellbound exhib 
We took down Double Exposure at Wool House last week and submitted for Spellbound... and so all three pirate babies toddled onto the walls of the 14th Century wool store; the first time they've all hung together. Although it may not be obvious, they fit quite well with the brief - 'dreams, stories and imaginings that connect us to the wider world'. As I've bearded on about in previous posts, these are stories of an imagined journey combined with some autobiographical stuff. The third image, 'Then strange ground now', is about the homesickness I felt when we returned 'home' to the UK in the 70s. Southampton was home to my parents who had emigrated to Canada in 1953. To me, home was Seattle, Washington where I'd spent the first five or so years of my life. Being dragged from there, where it was always sunny; where there was plenty of space and the colours were vivid, to this other 'home', where little brick houses squeezed shoulder to shoulder, stretching up into the cluttered sky and grey people puttered along narrow, wiggly roads in tiny cars; where it rained constantly... I can still feel that lump in my stomach now, just remembering the journey from the airport. 

Of course, those feelings didn't last too long and although never forgotten, the life in Seattle was carefully stored away in the memory banks of past experience. I do find it odd though, how easily and how strongly I can still feel that particular experience. Indelible; etched on my psyche.

height over flat water, high suspended nothing, then strange ground now, looming, towers tight close-huddling, colour-losing grey damp, dull heartsick ache...

Monday, 26 August 2013


The Artists' Group has a new name and its own logo - get us! We will launch this on our 2014 calendar which will be available in November. We're receiving pre-orders already...

'Tis done!

And here's the finished piece with drypoint Roman lamps and dice printed over the solar plate. Not sure how much of a sense of festiveness it gives but I'm quite pleased with the composition and movement in it.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Saturnalia continued

Here is a proof of the first of my two-plate image for December. It's progressing very slowly and feels somewhat like pulling teeth. I don't know if it's down to some innate obstinacy but I really struggle with working to a brief rather than Doing My Own Thing - however wide the brief is.

Anyway, I am gradually squeezing out an image. I'm thinking that this plate will be printed in blue and sepia, with a second drypoint plate over printed in a rich yellow (blue and gold were the predominant colours used during Saturnalia). I was going to used gold ink but I don't think that will reproduce well for the calendar.

Normally I would have made an etching and aquatint but we're on quite a tight schedule for this project; tight for me anyway because I work oh so very slowly. I'm panicking a bit about meeting the deadline and solar plate is so much quicker, if less satisfying. I'm trying to see it as a good thing though as it's really challenging me and forcing me to work in different ways. I think I'm probably stuck in an etching rut a bit... and my output is fairly feeble so hopefully this is giving me the necessary kick up the backside.