Reflection – On Being a Maker

One of the aspects which I have really enjoyed in this course is making artist’s books. I feel that these bring together my love of drawing and drawing media with sculpture, my last course. I very much enjoyed sculpture but knew that the classical mediums of clay or plaster were not for me; I was at my best in that course working with found objects and with paper, fabric or yarn.

I love experimenting and I love making. I am a maker. I also have a constant underlying rebellion against the tyranny of rectangular, usually A-format, wall hang art. It is so easy to be constrained to this format without even realising it. Our supports are manufactured pre-constrained. Art is difficult to display, and space consuming, if it can’t be popped in a  rectangular frame and hung up. Books and video allow me to break out of the flat rectangle.

A professional artist told me that I she does not rate artist’s books as they are too craft based and rather naff. I do not agree. The format is not inherently worthless. As always, it is what you do with it. It is as possible to make a naff painting as a naff book. A good quality of finish helps elevate an object but I think it comes down to the quality of the content, the intellectual effort which has been put into it and the depth of feeling and understanding for its subject matter. I find most flower paintings and pet portraits superficial and un-engaging (to be polite) but that doesn’t make all flower or pet painting worthless; think of Georgia O’Keefe or Lucien Freud’s paintings of his whippets. This level of content is what I have to aim for in both book and video.

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Part 6 – Artists Book Ideas and Parameters

I have been considering the options for an artist’s book as a culmination of parallel project work, in conjunction with a video. I have drawn up a list of objectives for the book:

  • it should require some time from the viewer and not reveal itself instantly
  • it should be a significant artifact in the hand
  • it should combine techniques and materials in a multilayered, textural way
  • no text, except, maybe a title
  • high quality of finish
  • limited colour palette
  • not too small, it needs to have a physical presence for assessment
  • the book and video should link by sharing some media and/or content

These lead me to some conclusions. The book cannot be a simple concertina book. Concertina constrains size but is also consumed in a single glance unless it includes internal pamphlets, windows etc, a possibility.

I need to consider what papers would support what media. I would like to include some of the techniques or media experiments I have been exploring, for instance the movement of gouache in water or with watercolour. This requires heavy paper. Other techniques have worked on 35gm Japanese paper, such as salt water in ink or mixing digital images. My book design should ideally allow me to mix paper types. This means that a colour theme will be important to draw the pages/images together into a unified whole. Given most of my work has been monochrome, I think that is the way to go. However, black is rarely the same colour across different media, and, if I want to layer things up to create complexity, I will have to either use different blacks, in different media and intensities, or else colour, say reds or two process colours. I might also want to use burning, rust or clay, so earth colours are a possibility. I need to do trials.

Ideas for layering up:

  • drypoint drawing over painted or printed background
  • monoprint with removed ink over painted or printed background
  • collagraph layer (melted tyvek etc)
  • drawing in charcoal or pastel over monoprint
  • encaustic monoprinting over drawing
  • rust and burning together
  • or any combination.

Strategy – make a number of printing plates of the same size with melted or flowing materials which can be inked in different ways and combined with backgrounds. Make a number of backgrounds capturing flux to try with the plates or which might stand alone. Make lots so that a set that works together can be selected. If possible, video materials in flux to incorporate in the video.

Thinking about all these parameters, I have selected to make a narrow rectangular book, with each image being a double page spread of about 38cm by 10 cm, yielding a book about 40cm by 11 cm. Some light weight papers may not support themselves at this and need to be mounted. It does mean that each page will have a centre fold with stitches showing but I hope that this will not be visually intrusive. More trials!  I need to aim for about 10 to 12 images over double spreads.

Addendum

Following my tutorial for assignment 5, my tutor has clarified some things for me and this alters my objectives for this piece of work. She tells me that my work is at its best when it is simple but playful.  I have therefore decided not to layer up but to make each page a simple statement of media in motion or the surface altered. She particularly liked the way I presented my earlier books in slip cases so that they become like a gift for the assessor to unwrap, so I shall definitely do that. I am also considering how I might present a small stack of books, in slip cases but then all contained together in a box, say.

She says that she thinks the concertina structure is especially successful as it unfolds in a sculptural way , so I may reconsider how I can do this rather larger. I am very pleased that, as an audience for my work, she got what I was trying to achieve with my artists’s books.

 

Part 6 – Parallel Project Review

I have been reviewing my work through the parallel project and considering how I present it, or a culmination of it, for assessment.

My original thoughts for a parallel project arose out of a workshop I did at West Dean. The original plan was to produce work based on my garden but as abstractly as possible. My tutor talked me out of this on the basis that I would very easily slip into the banal.

In Part 2 of the course, I produced some work about the loss of my father and this became the seed for my parallel project.  The project became about memory, absence/presence. In a serach for diminished iconography the work has moved towards boundaries and changes of state from one thing to another or one place to another. This has linked spiritual and metaphysical ideas with explorations into media and the interaction of materials.

I have been considering how I can make a video of a drawing in progress and animate it, in the way of William Kentridge. This process would inherently address a change of state, but I want to make that my subject also. Along side this, and in case the video is un-realisable, I want to make an artist’s book addressing the same subject.

Exhibition – Monochrome

Visiting this exhibition at the National Gallery yesterday, I have to admit that I was disappointed. I left not quite sure what the purpose of the exhibition was. On one hand it seemed to be emphasising the technical and cultural place of painting in black and white within the history of art, and on another, considering the power of monochrome to deliver impact.

The first three rooms of the exhibition explained the use of monochrome in religious imaginary of the Renaissance to show the material world in comparison to the richly jewelled colours of the spiritual scenes. We were shown how monochrome paintings were used for studies to explore tonal balances and modelling, how monochrome paint was used to draft out a large work and to under-paint the tonal areas. Multicoloured paintings would also be copied in monochrome which was then used as the basis for creating an etching for the mass distribution of an image.

Some of the most striking paintings were those produced to refute the idea that sculpture offered more to the viewer than painting by allowing observation from all sides and enhanced and changing modelling with light. This debate had resulted in paintings which were so indistinguishable from carved relief that you really wanted to reach out and stroke them to break the illusion.

This was all fairly interesting but very dry and there were only a couple of paintings in this section of the exhibition which really made my heart beat faster, firstly a  Rembrandt, ‘Ecco Homo’ 1635, actually a grisaille study for an etching. Rembrandt’s blobs of clay faces are masterful in their minimal, effortless evocation of character and the resulting etching had smoothed them out to idealised blandness. The other work was an enormous painting by Giandomenico Tiepolo, almost 3m by 2m, painted on a gold ground, the fourth of the images here. The effect of the gold in the sky and the gold under-painting was to make the work glow with an inner warmth. To stand  before it felt like standing in sunlight pouring through a stained glass window. It had the most astonishing physical presence. I know that copper is used as a support for this kind of glowing effect, but I can’t imagine the cost of a gold ground applied over this areas of six panels, never mind the technical difficulties. I have used gold tissue in printmaking as chine colle under ink and that is very effective, if by it’s nature not very gold.  I must try gold ink or gouache as an under layer. I had little success with gold leaf when I tried it as it floats off the plate or doesn’t hold the ink.

The next three rooms really puzzled me. These showed modern (well, mostly 20th century) monochrome works but I felt that many of them had been chosen almost randomly just because they happened not to use colour, not because they were using monochrome as a statement or to achieve a particular effect. There were paintings by Richter and Close which were reproductions of monochrome photographs, but I didn’t feel that the fact that they were monochrome added particular significance. It felt more that the curators were saying, ‘Look, monochrome painting can be as worthy as painting in colour’. I think it would have been much more powerful to have included a monochrome painting by Rothko, say, where the colour, or lack of it, has an emotional charge. Similarly, the works  included by Twomby, Kelly and Johns felt like they had just pulled out any old thing in black and white. The one work which I felt really made a point through its monochrome palette was one of  Vija Celmin’s ‘Night Sky’  etchings (this illustration is actually a drawing in the series). The black background creates an emptiness that the tiny white stars emphasise rather than fill and although her works are quite small (A3ish) they generate a much greater space. This is not just dependant on the subject, she achieves this when drawing waves or deserts, all in monochrome. The lack of colour is another component in her act of paring an image down to create vastness within it. 

That was my problem with the modern works; they happened to be black and white, but did it matter that they were? For one or two, yes, for instance Malevich’s ‘Black Square’, but for the most part, no. I think that they could have chosen much better.

I also felt that the exhibition confined itself too narrowly. It is called ‘Monochrome: Painting in Black and White’ but included quite a few etchings and one light installation. Only a couple of works had been made within the last 50 years. I think that, with profit, they could have included some of the amazing monochrome works being created now, especially drawings such as those by Julie Mehrethu or Anita Taylor, after all, the curators had already strayed beyond painting. Given that they included a room filled with orange light, the definition of monochrome could have been pushed beyond black and white. I do see however, that a red on red painting would have pushed the predominantly grey works back, and the orange room was navigated as you left the exhibition.

It was a good exhibition, and I am glad I went, but I think it could have been so much better. My work for Investigating Drawing is largely monochrome because I feel that it has a power and directness that colour does not, particularly in the context of my parallel project. All colours carry their own cultural significance and often, prettiness. In my increasingly non-iconographic work, I want to avoid these. I think that this exhibition made the point that monochrome work historically had a specific technical place, and even a cultural place in the Renaissance, but did not really drill down to the significance of the choice of monochrome in the work of contemporary artists.

Parallel Project – Solar Bleaching

This post is out of chronological order wand I apologise if this is confusing.  Whilst writing it, Mother-In-Law fell and was hospitalised, and the post wasn’t finished and became forgotten. Having realised, I am publishing it now in its unfinished state.

Reviewing the results of the solar printing, I felt that I could do better using a stencil which completely stopped the light. However, I wanted any image to be relevant to my parallel project and not just some photo negative or the usual found objects of feathers or ferns. The falling man as a metaphor for loss of self or transition between states seemed particularly apt for the medium. Having had limited success with the solar dye, I decided to try sun bleaching some sugar paper. I have found that I have to be careful leaving some papers where the sun might get to them. Tissue paper dyes are ephemeral, as is sugar paper, and the B&Q lining paper goes yellow in the sun. Using coloured sugar paper for solar transfer seemed like a good idea although I had no idea how much time it would take.

sketchbook development, image blurred with movement, ambigous.

Thinking that UV light was largely filtered out by double glazing, I taped the paper to the south facing window on the outside and left it for the day.

Checking progress…

Gently turning back the acetate at the hinge, I could check if the sun was having any effect. I was amazed that the paper had bleached significantly in just 6 hours of strong sunshine. The acetate cast a great shadow as I looked, doubling up and distorting the image.

The final image after only one day, is pleasingly soft. The base paper has warmed to a brownish tone compared to the original purple. The figure is melting away into the unknown. The sugar paper is hardly professional quality and the image is obviously not archival, so this would never be a technique which I could incorporate into ‘wall hang’ art. However, it could be used in an artist’s book as part of a large dialogue.

Parallel Project – Absent and Present Media

Along side considering meaningful media, I have been considering absent and present media.

I could consider cutting or perforating the support to project light through. This might be particularly effect if I pricked an image into a photograph of another image, overlaying two related ideas. However, this doesn’t fit with my current attempt to escape iconography.

Setting fire to supports always appeals. I could paint a design in negative on to a paper support and subject the support to a heat source which would preferentially burn the dry areas. A blow torch would probably be too hot but a decorating hot air gun would probably work well of I can physically support the paper. Kraft board would probably work for this because it is surprisingly heat resistant. It need carefully consideration of safety and certainly needs to be done outside in a non-flammable area. I like the idea of singeing a design into a support. The action of fire could add another layer of meaning to a design.

I have already experimented with adding and removing charcoal and graphite, but, with an interest in printmaking, adding and removing ink from a plate is another option. This is a standard method of making a monoprint but I want to think how I might use this in my parallel project.

Here I have rolled ink onto a plate and wiped areas into it using scrim and kitchen paper. I have repeated this with three colours, successively printed. White spirit has been spattered into the ink, to create holes in its coverage. This first attempt is too present, with the wiping and drawing not creating enough of a ‘hole’ in the ink. The design is too contrived. This second attempt is much more about the media, how it is applied and how it is removed, and, I think much more successful.

What interests me is that the negative areas are the more powerful. I would like to combine this with other media. It would need to be able to withstand the paper being damped for printing, so possibly Inktense, which is  waterproof pigment, waterproof ink, or acryl gouache. The transparency of the ink is important here and an important consideration when attempting to layer up media.

When I was considering ‘meaningful’ media, I used rust to create marks on paper. A way of having present and absent media would be to remove rust from a surface (now a support) as an act of drawing. Last summer, I collected some rusty sheet from Lyme Beach where the old town dump is being eroded out of the cliff. I have tried drawing on this by scratching and polishing the rust away.

Initial mark making

Development

I think that this has an inherent beauty but it is not easy to present. Like most shiny, metallic or iridescent finishes, it can only be seen at and angle when light is reflected. But oh, rusty, eroded iron is so gorgeous!

I tried adding a more obviously drawn line to another piece, but feels too conscious and contrived.

These are more interesting experiments, if not ends in themselves.  I plan to continue picking up rusty bits of metal and to try layering wiped ink over other media.