Category Archives: Parallel Project

Parallel Project – Remembering Passchendaele

It is the centenary of the battle at Passchendaele, where approximately half a million men, French, British and German, died. Remembrance of those gone lies at the heart of my parallel project; their presence in our memory, their absence from our lives.

During the recent book making course, the tutor was encouraging us to write in our books (the emphasis of the course was literary, rather than artistic), and in particular, suggested that the origami book design with its three internal pages, was especially suited to a Haiku. This Japanese poem has three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. I made a very small origami book out of grey marbled Japanese paper, which I think brings to mind clouds or swirling mist. I am always reluctant to use handwriting, since my writing is rubbish and, being dyslexic, I don’t always write the character which I intend. P’s become b’s etc. Here is my poor effort:

The bad poetry and handwriting aside, I like this delicate, painted paper combined with text, or, possibly image and will consider it as a component of an artists’s book.

I have been reviewing my work throughout the course and thinking about what worked well. One of the works I selected was a transfer print, after Rauschenberg, which considered family memories.

Since I made this work, I have been collecting suitable images from newspapers which I might use in another. These range from high-heeled shoes and donuts (possibly for use in a modern ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’?) to historical, domestic or political images. One is this famous photograph from WW1 taken in the aftermath of Passchendaele.

I have been exploring the effects produced by acryl gouache, and want to introduce the ghosts of these soldiers into a landscape of forms suggested by gouache and water. The runs and blooms of the paint might be eloquent of the mire and desolation of Flanders.

A2, acryl gouache on 160gm cartridge

I dropped gouache of various dilutions into water washes suggested by the puddles and shattered trees of the photograph. This has resulted in a rather more representational image than I expected. The foreground is watery and chaotic, which is appropriate, but I wish I had let less say more. Slanting the paper up and down, I encouraged runs in both directions for the trees and I think that this has worked well for the starkness of the landscape.

Using the computer, I tried out various positions of the photo with in the drawing.

Having photographed the one image and scanned the other, I have a scaling problem here. The photo is actually smaller relative to the drawing than this composite. The photo in the newspaper is about A5 and the transfer method with solvent means that I cannot scale it. Also, the process only works with high contrast images which this is not. The photograph will have to be positioned in a lighter area of the drawing.

I thought that the transfer would be small and pale but this is disappointing. I don’t mind the soldiers being pale and ghostly but they are difficult to read in such a noisy  and contrasty background. I used gesso to make the area around the soldiers paler. The gesso looked flat and as though it was floating above the surface so, drawing on the lessons of the recent Experimental Drawing workshop, I distressed the surface with a scalpel. This has had the effect of adding to the war-torn nature of the scene. The figures stand out better but perhaps still look too small in the landscape.

If you crop into the drawing, the figures look better and the combination of transfer and paper surface becomes more interesting.

I could just select this portion, but I have decided to condense the drawing by tearing it apart and reassembling it; development by destruction. In reassembling it, I have tried to fragment the landscape. I have tried to capture that feeling of visiting a place after many years. I find that my memories are inaccurate and have distorted the landscape, omitting some parts, and making some features much more prominent than reality.

The revised shapes have the effect of drawing the eye to the ghostly soldiers.

Enlargement

This isn’t exactly what I set out to achieve; it has developed through the process. The result is a genuine, heartfelt response to the ordeal suffered by so many one hundred years ago, gone but not forgotten.

Parallel Project – Drawing with Light

I want to do some research into drawing with light. This arises out of a review of earlier work and selecting light motes as intriguing found drawings. It also plays into future Part 5 themes of drawings developed over time and  my parallel project looking at absence/presence and traces.

There are various ways one might draw with light. Perhaps the most obvious is to make cyanotype prints using light sensitive paper on which an image can be made in several ways. Light can be excluded from the paper by stencils of various sorts, paper, thread, object, or the paper can be used in a pin hole camera to record traces of the sun or environment. 

Alternatively, the path of a small, powerful light can be traced in a longer exposure photograph, as in Gjon Mili’s photographs for Time magazine, where he attached lights to a figure skater, or those he famously took of Picasso drawing in space (Page, 2017).

Another way of harnessing light might be to prick pinholes in a support, possibly in reference to some image on the support and back-light it so that small, selective highlights are created.

I wanted to see if I could capture the light motes in a more direct way than photographing them. I have some Jacquard Solarfast light sensitive dye left from a textile project a few years ago which could be pressed into service. I had no success with this on paper in the past but decided to have another go. The fluid was applied to paper in a darkened room. Not being sure how best to apply it, I started with a sponge roller but progressed to a sponge brush as the roller produced an uneven orange peel effect. I chose a very bright day and set up an exposure bench outside with a cutting mat, a sheet of glass and my reflective object, a copper kettle.

My initial exposures produced solid blue sheets. I had thought that a long exposure would be necessary, but quickly realised that the background light was burning out any image and that the copper light motes were not very bright. A large card board box was positioned to shade the paper whilst allowing the light motes to be reflected back on to the paper. An exposure time of about 2 minutes allowed the light motes to be exposed before the whole paper was completely exposed and the marks were lost. However, only the strongest are captured and the delicacy  and extent of the whole is not recorded.

Perhaps I could produce a better image by using a uv light source in a darkened room with stronger light motes produced by cut glass. Unfortunately, this failed to develop at all, probably due to my led torch not producing enough uv. The dye only develops when wet, and the paper dried out before any development at this light level.

The glass light motes are much stronger than the copper, so I tried producing these with the sun as the light source. The light has to go through the glass rather than reflected back, so shading the paper was not possible, and you can’t project just the light mote.

Initial results were uninspiring, but I did get better at exposure, subject selection and dye application.

Old, heavily cut glass worked best at scattering the light. A flower bowl with internal holder probably produced the best image. All these glasses are really old and inherited it from my grandmother 40 years ago. This gives these pictograms added layers of trace and significance for me. They have a connection to Cornelia Parker’s images of glasses.

I did manage to record some light motes but I would much rather not have recorded the glass objects producing them. The light motes have a mysterious beauty about them which is negated by showing the objects. Since the light has been concentrated, rather than excluded, by the subjects, these images will always be low contrast.

This has been an interesting piece of research for a very sunny day. If I want to pursue it further, I think I have to invest in proper cyanotype chemicals and be able to expose dry paper using a focused light source.

References

Jason D Page. 2017. Light Painting Photography History. [ONLINE] Available at: http://lightpaintingphotography.com/light-painting-history/. [Accessed 8 July 2017].

Parallel Project – Media Removed

This post analyses further researches in to present and absent media though repeated applications of paint and then removal to build a history of marks.

At the London Original Print Fair, I saw Basil Beattie’s mono-screenprints on Two Rivers paper. Some years ago, when I was painting watercolours, I bought some of this wonderful handmade paper, but have never used it, partly because I have moved on from mannered watercolours, but mostly out of fear. It is just too beautiful and too expense to leap into. I see the proprietors occasionally through canal and life drawing connections and at art fairs where they demonstrate the handmade process. They often have Oliver Lively demonstrating on their papers and his process is very interesting to watch, as he often scrubs away, quite violently, at the surface. Last summer, Oliver suggested that I buy one of their small sketchbooks to liberate myself of paper fear. This came back into my mind after see the Beattie prints and also some recent sketchbook disasters trying to paint on cartridge.

I have phoned Two Rivers to order sketchbooks for summer travel. Chatting about painting and printmaking on their papers, their advice was to use it, and then if that wasn’t a success, scrub it off under a tap and start again, because the surface sizing will take repeated media removal. Suddenly, this long drawn out thought process over their paper has played into my researches on adding and removing media.

The paper is highly textured and stiff as cardboard, with irregular deckle edges on all sides. For my experiment, I used acryl gouache, as I hoped that this could be removed, especially if not completely dry, but the acrylic content might mean that it would not be completely removed. I want to leave ghost marks, although i have no idea what their character might be.

Detail showing the record of earlier marks in the paper texture.

Each layer has been allowed to dry a little more so that the marks have gradually become more defined. This latter layer was allowed o dry overnight and then a scotchpad taken to some areas. So, no paper fear now!

28cm x 38cm

This, probably final, layer uses rich, black, barely dilutes gouache. The character of the paper is clearly visible even in the blackest areas.

This is amazing paper. I cannot decide whether this is ‘finished’ and whether it has any great merit beyond research, although, in that respect, this was a very useful experiment.  I enjoy the rich and varied tones and the layers and variety of of mark. The final layer of marks was developed in response to earlier marks using a photo and drawing app on the ipad, but the sweep of paint at in the lower half has come out too symmetrical. This goes away into a folder for a while, to be got out later and considered more objectively. It may get developed, or completely painted or scrubbed out to produce a new surface, or left alone.

Research – Anish Kapoor Drawings

Anish Kapoor’s drawings have a resonance with my exploration of absence and presence. He uses black gouache to visualise ideas of nothingness, a spiritual letting go of materiality. The drawings offer a window through to an alternative space or dimension. This is achieved through a negation of the surface of the support  through the use of dense, matt, black forms which the eye sinks into. He also uses red of which he says, ‘Red has a terrifying kind of darkness in it’ (Aftab, 2015).

The drawings are mysterious, compelling, contain everything and nothing. Deliberately, he invites the observer to place their own meaning on the work. Kapoor has become a Buddhist (Anish Kapoor in Conversation with Marcello Dantas, 2006) and the drawings have a great deal in common with Zen art in which simple formalism, without perfection, seeks to create a inner state of calm detachment within the observer.

As a piece of physical research, I have experimented with black gouache and the painting of simple shapes which might or might not have a metaphysical symbolism. Before looking at Kapoor’s drawings, my sketchbook explorations were about presence/absence but here I am simply investigating the physical properties and opportunities of the medium.

I have worked ‘wet in wet’ in order to have soft edges with a tonal gradient. The whole support was washed with water on both sides before any paint added. I used the biggest brushes I have with substantial pools of paint available. I have tried to apply the paint in a few continuous strokes to achieve strong shapes and then allow the medium to move as it wishes. In a few, I tried using oil pastel as a contrasting resist, only to find that it doesn’t resist acryl gouache. The studies started off small, at A5 and grew bigger as I gained confidence.

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AV Acryl Gouache, oil pastel on cartridge paper, A5

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Gouache, oil pastel on cartridge paper, A5

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Gouache, oil pastel on cartridge paper, A5

I thought I would replace the oil pastel with water colour paint, mixed strongly and see how the two reacted to each other.

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Lamp black and red watercolour on cartridge paper, A5

The watercolour black was much flatter and less interesting than the gouache.

The 300gm cartridge was cockling and influence the movement of the paint so I moved to using hot pressed water colour paper. One of my fellow students once said to me that it was good idea to buy expensive paper and put it away for a while. Then, when you come to use it, you have forgotten how much it cost, and could be liberated from fear of using it freely. This is great advice which I try to follow.

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Gouache, watercolour on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5

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Gouache on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5

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Gouache on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5

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Thicker gouache on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5

The fractal marks where the gouache stops spreading are fascinating. Red seems an obvious contrast to black, but what about other process colours, blue and magenta? I remember once mixing a lovely purple watercolour wash of ultramarine and quinacridone magenta only to have the colour split on the paper with the magenta travelling for miles. I have done the same here, to see how the different colour react with the black.

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Gouache and watercolour on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5

 

The gouache seems to repel water into the watercolour paint, but the magenta lies above the ultramarine pigment in suspension, and stays floating in the extra water, drying at a different rate.

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Pools of black gouache dropped into a wet support to see how they react against each other, A4

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Gouache, HP paper, A4

Here, a large mop brush full of gouache was rolled across the paper three times, creating some wonderful marks which remind me of sun spots. I seem to have travelled quite a way from Anish Kapoor here. I thought I might investigate an alternative medium which might offer the matt density of gouache, pastels.

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Sennelier pastels, A5

The soft, intensely pigmented pastels offer a luscious matt surface but completely smooth tonal transitions would be dull whilst linear marks appear rather crude; an opportunity for future research.

Having used up all my small store of magenta, I returned to red, but reversed the process, painting in red and dropping in some black gouache. I limited myself to four marks with my biggest brush on the largest pieces of Saunders Waterford I have in stock.

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Watercolour, gouahce, HP paper, A3

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Watercolour, gouache, HP paper, A3

This final work is definitely my favourite of the day and reminds me of Louise Bourgeois drawings. Without any intent, it would be easy to infer a sexual interpretation to this image. Red is a dangerous colour with all sorts of baggage. In deciding what gesture to make in this work, I was thinking of Zen calligraphy and the Zen figure of enso, an open or closed circle, as used by artists such as Jiro Yoshihara. The way the paint has migrated here is beautiful.

These drawings offer a new vocabulary of marks which I find very exciting. I realise that my ambition for my art is to say something very simple and direct, with very simple but subtle marks. I want to create something which becomes more interesting and more complex, the closer you observe it. I want to make art where, every time you walked past it, you could pause and notice a new fascinating detail.

References

Aftab, K. (2015) ‘Anish Kapoor: I have Nothing to Say”’, 15 April.
Available at: http://the-talks.com/interview/anish-kapoor/ (Accessed: 4 January 2017).
Anish Kapoor in Conversation with Marcello Dantas (2006)
Available at: http://anishkapoor.com/178/in-conversation-with-marcello-dantas
(Accessed: 4 January 2017).

 

Parallel Project – Falling Further

I have been researching ways of creating depth in the picture frame and negating the support surface. One way has been to use an intense matt black, but another might be to use a contrast of materials for subject and background and exploit the translucent nature of delicate paper.

To create several layers of translucent colours, I used Inktense pigments. These are water-soluble but become permanent. Subsequent layers will not effect earlier ones. They also have the effect of interacting in a granular way when suspended in water. In order to apply multiple layers without over-soaking the paper, I experimented using a gelatine plate and monoprinted successive layers. The gelatine plate has an intrinsic water content which stops media drying out too quickly and also helps release them from the surface. I was keen to see if it would work with water-based media rather than the more normally used acrylic paints. The cloud-like shapes in my samples persuaded me to revisit the subject of a falling figure.

In the small sample below, there are several layers of Inktense monoprint layers with the figure monoprinted using Indian ink. The ink transferred very well, retaining brush strokes. A similar experiment with acryl gouache failed.

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Sketchbook sample

The transparency of the background makes the figure appear to float. I monoprinted a number of A3 sized supports and then added a figure, monoprinted using Indian ink.

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36cm x 26cm

I have struggled to find a balance between obvious brush strokes in the background and a sense of cloud-like structure or volume. The ink dries in about 90 seconds, so there is little time to paint the figure accurately. However, the way the brush marks have been picked up give the figure movement. The imperfection of the edges and extremities makes the figure more abstract and more intriguing.

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36cm x 26cm

This figure appears to be sinking into a mist or being swept by waves, a result of leaving obvious brush strokes.

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This is the most successful figure, with the brush strokes giving volume and structure but the lost and found edges adding mystery. The character of these marks could only have been achieved by monoprinting. The translucent, almost luscious, background is hopeful rather than ominous.

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Detail 16cm x 20cm

Parallel Project – Fractured Memories

Whilst talking to my sister about what family photos might be available as references, I realise that we have completely different memories of aspects of our childhood. This is inevitable since different people, events and places have a different impact depending on your age at the time, your emotions and experiences.

This thought came at the time when I have been playing around with photographic images, both personal and appropriated. I have been experimenting with methods of transferring images for inclusion in works on paper. Ideally, I want to go beyond collage and actually integrate the image with the surface, avoiding difficult edges, changes in texture and thickness etc.

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Transfer experiments and notes

One method uses acrylic medium, painted over a printed image. The medium is applied in several layers, allowed to fully dry and then the paper is soaked and rubbed off the back, leaving ink embedded in an acrylic ‘skin’. This is very effective at transferring a detailed image but the surface is, inevitably, plastic and shiny, even using matt medium. The skin can be cut or, better, torn and adhered to the support with pva or more medium.

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‘Skin’ applied and drawn into

I was excited to find an intriguing alternative during the study visit to the Rauschenberg exhibition recently. For his series illustrating Dante’s Inferno, he used an offset method, soaking an image in solvent and drawing over the back with an empty ballpoint to transfer the image. This transfers the ink directly to the support and allows it to be completely integrated with other drawing techniques. With some experimentation, I found the process worked well with newspaper or magazine illustrations. The result looks as though it has been drawn, as indeed, in a way, it has.

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I had been thinking about the fractured memories and how to represent this using photographs. In my sketchbook, I have played with a large scale inkjet photograph of my father’s eyes, transferred to a skin and torn into pieces.

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A5

I wanted to put together these ideas using an appropriated family photograph and solvent offset. I was lucky enough to find a large period black and white photo of a family group in a newspaper article which seemed perfect for the subject. The girl in the middle is several years older than the babies and will have entirely different memories of this occasion and of her parents at that period of their lives.

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30cm x 30cm

The offset gives a slightly ghostly image, as not all of the ink is transferred. I used this to my advantage by transferring the older child’s face twice in order to add to the sense of dislocation. The marks made by the pen give the effect of drawing but also of personal interpretation. The marks going in different directions also indicate a lack of one absolute truth.

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This method of transfer allows me to intervene in the result in addition to getting rid of the issues of edges or surface changes. It isn’t just a photograph, it is a specific interpretation of the image. It has dream-like quality perfectly suited to exploring the subject of memory.

I hope to make a series of works around this theme and plan further experiments using family images if I can find a way of replicating them, scaling etc which will transfer. I suspect this means using a commercial laser copier or printer. Experiments using images from a home laser printer were not successful.

Parallel Project – Absence/Presence

One of the themes emerging in my sketchbook is exploring pairs of words as ways of interpreting absence and presence. This has lead to experimenting looking at the boundaries between states, holes in one medium leading to another, positives and negatives.

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This is a kind of doodling, experimenting with materials, ideas and attempts to deny the picture plane and, to some extent, the hand of the artist. I am trying to both direct the medium, but also allow it space in which to express its nature. Scaling these experiments up is proving to be difficult.

Dense, matt black is a recurring element. It helps deny the picture plane by giving the surface depth and making it hard to focus on. It references the unknown and unknowable, defying space and context. Undoubtedly, I have been influenced here by my background in astrophysics and also by looking at the drawings of Anish Kapoor.

Experimenting with shapes and media, adding and subtracting,  produced this little sketch in which I was thinking about how light might behave around a hole in a dark space.

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This is small, only about 10cm sq but explores a new medium to me, Wolff carbon blocks. These produce a seductive, rich, velvety black and can be manipulated with a plastic eraser. To further explore the idea and the medium, I developed the idea on a bigger scale working in positive and negative. It was extremely difficult to keep the right hand side of the support clean even though I masked it with newspaper. I work on both sides simultaneously, trying to balance without symmetry.

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60cm x 30cm

It has been extremely difficult to photograph this, persuading the camera that the black is absolutely black and the white pristine. The shape on the left is not as successful as the original sketch at suggesting the diffraction of light at edges. The carbon can be manipulated but leaves a trace of its presence which was difficult in this work but could be exploited  elsewhere.