Category Archives: Research

Workshop – Miniature books

Since my ‘Experimental Drawing’ workshop was only three days, and Oxford Summer School runs for six, I booked into a second short course on making miniature books with the future project of making an artist’s book in mind. Also, I generate a huge pile of works on paper which are never going to be framed or presented for assessment and which I would like to use to create more 3-d works.

The workshop was highly prescriptive in contrast to the drawing workshop, but I guess this is the nature of a more exacting making process. We learnt quite a few book forms, concertina (or zig-zag) in rectangular or triangular forms, flag books, pop-up books and the beautifully simple but satisfying origami book.

We also tried out a number of techniques for embellishing the books and covers including making simple stamps from craft foam, marbling and creating textured paper using wood blocks or other tools and a coloured paste of acrylic paint, corn flour and glycerine.

This paste was very effective, producing strongly textured, thick, strong cover papers.

Marbling was fun, and I had taken some of my own papers, so I tried it on delicate (but strong) Japanese washi. This is very absorbent, and rather than picking up the ink on the surface, it absorbed it, producing very delicate, subtle effects which might be excellent for an artist book.

Generally, I thought the techniques were more suited to personalised cards than artists books, but I did take away a lot of information which will be useful in a freer context.

At home I took an old sun dye test print and, thinking about the editing and recombining ideas from the drawing workshop, made a very simple two direction, concertina book in kraft card, and applied selected portions of the print.

     

I think that the unimaginative print has been recombined into something much more interesting, though still more of a gift card than an artist’s book. A serious limitation is the conflict in requirements between paper that can be  crisply folded and thick printmaking paper. However, there are some ways around this such as here where the 160gm paper has been mounted in a thinner, fold-able paper. Alternatively, thread or fabric could be used as a hinge between sheets.

Ideas for development

zig-zag book, doubled where the zigs of one sheet are sewn to the zags of the other, leaving an internal space

windows cut into concertina books to fold the opposite way

cut holes (linked design/shape) to show portion of following page

prints collaged onto pages, small squares rearranged

multi paper stitched as sheets into Japanese stab binding book

concertina book section joined at right angles

cyanotypes mixed with drawings, paint, emboss etc, common theme or image

fabric covers

paper combined with stitch

small books stitched into larger books

pockets for small drawings

origami book which folds flat out of a hard cover, details on one side (each page) large drawing on back

 

Workshop – Experimental Drawing

The excellent Oxford Summer School offered me the opportunity to study ‘Experimental Drawing’ with Claire Christie Sadler, in a three-day workshop.

On the first day, we explored mark making with charcoal and graphite, using words as inspiration. Claire gave us each a booklet of words and asked us to make quick drawings through a square template onto several large sheets of paper. We were encouraged to not be too literal, and consider possibly overlapping the drawings and incorporate the words. A selection of different papers were available to try.

Gathering together, we considered and discussed the results of this exercise. Having worked through ‘windows’, we looked at  how we could use the window to select portions of different drawings.

This allows a different tension between the marks and brings into play the unintentional negative spaces. I also enjoy the effect of using the marks accumulated on the frame in conjunction with the drawings.

We also looked at some books illustrating how some artists use these mediums. This introduced me to the work of Dennis Creffield, and in particular, his drawings of every cathedral in England, using charcoal. I was deeply impressed by his strong, fearless marks and the way he moves the charcoal around, pushing things back or pulling them forward.

This exercise was then extended to produce a work in response to a poem, The Cablecar by Lawrence Sail.  I focused on ‘the moon’s daytime ghost’, but rather than trying to draw the moon, I wanted to create an absence, using a torn paper stencil. I drew into my marks in places with water and then used a rubber, abrading the surface, inspired by looking at the work of Alison Lambert.  I was trying to create a soft, dream-like atmosphere.

Charcoal, A2

Again, we discussed our work. These drawings tended to be much more representational.

On the second day of our workshop, we experimented with lots more media, and with disrupting the surface of the support by painting, gluing, scratching, tearing etc. I have drawn with pva before but using a glue stick to draw was definitely new to me. The other method which we all found inspiring was abrading the surface with the very coursest sand paper.

We were then given a cotton bag of 12 items and a large sheet of cartridge folded into 12 squares. We drew a response to each item using touch alone, responding to the feel of each object, rather than the way we thought it might look. The items included sheep’s fleece, folded cardboard, crunkled paper, a ball of wire, a bulldog clip and a tie of clingfilm.

Shell, painted tissue and charcoal, 20cm by 20cm approx

Wood off cut, cartridge paper folded and charcoal wiped along the edges created, 20cm by 20cm approx

Tea bag, newspaper, watercolour, gesso and pastel, 20cm by 20cm approx

Scrim, abrasion by coarse sand paper with powdered graphite, 20cm by 20cm approx

Metal domed button, silver oil stick, graphite, water, 20cm by 20cm approx

Wire ball, gesso and charcoal, 20cm by 20cm approx

It was very interesting to review everyone’s responses. Some were very literal, some highly tactile, some had actually used the item in their response.

We then chose a single item from which to draw a larger work, using sight and touch.

Small shell, charcoal, graphite, acrylic ink, water colour, gesso, 60cm x 60cm

As usual, I like details of this work more than I like the whole. I then drew the same shell using different materials.

Small shell, Indian ink, gouache, graphite, charcoal, eraser, 60cm x 60cm

I think the gouache has worked well here, but otherwise I think the first piece was the more successful. In both, the hinge part of the shell has interested me more than the wide curve, rendering the rest of the drawing dull.

On the third day, we looked at different supports and at drawing in response to music. We were given an envelope of A5 paper samples to experiment on:

Claire (who has also been a professional musician) had chosen 11 short tracks of a variety of music. She played each one whilst we listened, and then we chose a support and any mark making media we wanted and quickly drew whilst she played the piece again for a couple of minutes. Again, she encouraged us to respond to the feelings the music evoked. The drawings for each piece were laid in columns for comparison.

Khadi, gold and black gouache

Sumi paper, gouache

Bockingford, watercolours

Chinese paper, ink in water

Newsprint, graphite

Kraft paper, white chalk and gel pen

Sanders Waterford rough, charcoal, water

Sugar paper, gouache

Sanders Waterford HP, graphite powder

Drafting paper, drawn on both sides, oil stick and gel pen

Most of these papers I have used before, either for water colour or printmaking. However, I was excited by the possibilities offered by drawing on both sides of the drafting paper. I found this exercise very difficult. We had only a very short time to consider which support to combine with which materials and draw. Music is something of a closed book to me and I suspect that lack of knowledge means that my response is rather superficial, certainly when compared to others in the group who were musicians. I certainly couldn’t identify any of the pieces of music apart from to say that one was Bach.

We moved on to draw large scale pieces in response to a work by a Norwegian composer which induced a feeling of peace and tranquillity.  I found my drawings becoming simpler and simpler, although I spent some considerable time on each, mainly thinking and rehearsing a single stroke.

gouache, A2

gouache, A2

gouache, A2

gouache, A2

This last piece was made by allowing a drip to run down the paper whilst occasionally touching it with a brush tip dipped in gouache.

I usually work fast and instinctively but this can lead to a piling up of marks without much consideration. I do know that less can be more, but I need to remind myself of this more often. This music had the effect of slowing me down and making my marks much more spare and considered.

One idea I shall take away from this workshop is combining drawings or selecting part and viewing it through another. Here I have taken these final drawings and reimagined them using photo-editing software.

I can reference Ellsworth Kelly and cut up my drawings and reassemble them, or I can select details and assemble these as a montage, but I do like the idea of cutting a window in one drawing through which you view another. I have experimented, cutting a frame in one and positioning it over others…

I think that this works best when an element from one drawing links into another. Below, I have extracted two sections of the surface altering experiments and related them in a wide space through lines I have imagined  extended from one to the other.

This workshop felt like a natural extension of many of the ideas and projects in the Drawing 2 course and whilst quite a bit wasn’t new to me, I still came away feeling excited and empowered. There were ideas which I will definitely build into my practice such as physically editing my drawings and juxtaposing them. Dennis Creffield’s charcoal works will be a touchstone.

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].

The London Original Print Fair

The annual London Original Print Fair is held at the Royal Academy where the exhibition rooms are taken over by many galleries from all around the world which specialise in original prints.  This means that there is a huge breadth of work to see, spanning different ages and different artistic cultures, from Picassos and Bawdens to contemporary Chinese woodcuts and the latest Peter Bakes. I can’t imagine any other place where you could see works by such a wide range of excellent and emerging artists, all accessibly displayed and with knowledgeable people to tell you about the work. There is also every conceivable printmaking technique to examine, and it is even surprisingly affordable.

Here are just a few of the printmakers who caught my eye:

Anne-Marie James with her book pages sliced into slithers and interposed so that two images engaged in a dialogue. There is an image here (the second) and her other altered book art can be seen here.

Tom Hammick’s huge woodcuts are always interesting, especially how he layers colours.

Cornelia Parker’s polymer photogravure images of glass, particularly those of broken glasses.

Glenn Brown for his rather bizarre, affectionate but irreverent, take on art history

Victoria Burge brings together science, mapping and art. She used heavy embossing to create three-dimensionality in her prints.

Bill Jacklin creates monoprints in several layers with wiping and white spirit spattering, creating movement and atmosphere.

Alison Lambert was showing very large charcoal portraits where the surface had been torn and abraded to recapture highlights. She also makes some very strong monoprints.

Douglas Gordon’s offset lithographs of a solar eclipse juxtapositioned with Anish Kapoor’s etchings.

James Collyer’s Yamashiro Falls  married simplicity of design with technical complexity. This gallery picture is so poor that it hardly does it justice.

For inventiveness and originality, Thomas Gosebruch really stood out, and, wonderfully, he was there, happy to talk about how he made his work. I was intrigued by how he folded paper and then printed on each segment and how he got ink or paint to be 2 or 3mm deep.  The paper folding is an idea well worth stealing.

Basil Beattie’s prints were monoprinted using a silk screen, a process I have been experimenting with. The print studio representatives were really helpful with a discussion about papers, inks, mediums and screen mesh size. The prints were very tactile and heavily layered in oil paint, quite unlike run of the mill screen prints.

My very favourite prints were by Kate McCrickard. These were really complex, many layered monoprints using really bright luminous colours in the initial layers and muted colours on top, with an outline ultimately added to define the figures (I think). The gallery owner told me that she sketches in local cafes and then translates these sketches into monoprints. The whole process must be very drawn out, as each layer of ink dries, but I think she probably works on a group in parallel because the prints naturally formed sets with a rhythm of the same coloured layers between them. Another idea to steal.

I have to thank Rabley Drawing Centre for sending me a complimentary ticket for the Fair. How could I have missed Emma Stibbon’s Vent from my list of eye-catching prints? There was just so much wonderful stuff.

4.3 Research – Importance of Place

It is hard to believe that place, especially one’s own place, isn’t important to everyone, although we might all focus on different aspect of place. For me, place is inextricably linked with the natural environment, the change of seasons and the weather. For Frank Auerbach, it is the urban environment of London, for Giorgio Morandi, it was his studio filled with familiar pots and jugs and for Emily Kame Kngwarreye, it was her ancestral homeland of Utopia, north of Alice Springs, both its physical landscape and her community’s deep cultural relationship with the land.

Her initial works on canvas, when given acrylics at the age of 80, were dot paintings in the aboriginal tradition of ceremonial body art or sand drawings used to tell tales of ancestors and the ‘dreamtime’ or transmit life lessons. Without a written language, aboriginal peoples developed pictograms used in their story-pictures to depict people, animals, plants and landscape features. This gave Emily a visual vocabulary with which to speak about her her place and everything within it. Dots were introduced when the ‘white man’ arrived to hide or obscure the underlying sacred symbols (Kate Owen Gallery, 2017).

Emily’s paintings move beyond this symbolism to a less traditional interpretation of her landscape in ‘Earth’s Creation’ (1994). She has still used dots but in swirls of vibrant colours which represent the greening and flowering of the landscape after the rains. In her final works, the landscape is reduced to broad, soft, swathes of colour, sometimes vibrant but sometimes muted. All iconography, symbolised or not, has dissolved away into colour and emotion.

This development has similarities to Morandi’s enquiry into his collection of artifacts, and his still life paintings remind me of landscapes; when he groups them together in flat planes, touching but not overlapping, the objects loose individual character and become part of a panarama. His intense enquiry over many years in to the same artefacts resulted in a greater and greater loss of detail. He was experimenting with how much he could leave out and still capture an essense.

O’Keefe had a similar absorption in the landscape of New Mexico around her Ghost Ranch and a similar delight in the intense colours produced by clarity of air and changing light in the desert. In her paintings, the desert isn’t rocky, but fluid and plastic. Her favourite subject was Pedernal Mountain, “It’s my private mountain,” she once said. “It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” (Sooke, 2016).

I am a keen walker and over the years have camped, walked and climbed in some stunning mountainous locations which have tugged at the heart with their isolation and beauty. The Cuillin Mountains of Skye (here painted by Alexander Goudie) appear in my prints repeatedly, although there was a twenty year gap in my visits. When I finally returned there last year, it was very emotional. I envy people who are able to access readily the landscape that inspires them. My garden, enclosed by high trees, is my proxy for the wilderness.

Sketch of Cuillin from Glen Brittle as they briefly appeared from the cloud, Sept16

References

Kate Owen Gallery, (2017). [online] Available at: https://kateowengallery.com/page/Aboriginal-Art-Symbols.aspx [Accessed 22 May 2017].

Sooke, A. (2017). How Georgia O’Keeffe left her cheating husband for a mountain: ‘God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it’. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/what-to-see/how-georgia-okeeffe-left-her-cheating-husband-for-a-mountain-god/ [Accessed 22 May 2017].

Bibliography

http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/utopia_the_genius_of_emily_kame_kngwarreye/emily_kame_kngwarreye

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/global-contemporary/a/kngwarreye-earths-creation

https://kateowengallery.com/page/Aboriginal-Art-Symbols.aspx

Workshop- Experimenting with Abstraction Through Drawing

This two day workshop was tutored by Jane Strother, an Oxford Adult Education tutor who offers thoughtful and interesting courses in personal development for experienced artists. I have been to one of her courses before at Oxford Summer School and found it really useful. The attraction is not just the content of the course, but the coming together with half a dozen like minded people, albeit with totally different art directions.

Jane started the day by reviewing the work of several artists and looking at their different approaches to organising mass and line within a space. We looked at William Scott, Ellsworth Kelly, David Tress, Simon Carter and Nicholas De Stael. Jane showed us their different methods for exploring composition; collage, drawing, tearing and rearranging, working via a grid, simplification via obliteration etc. We discussed how, in developing an abstract, or abstracted image, you might wish to completely loose any iconography, or choose to retain a few specific elements.

Jane had set up a towering stack of chairs and set us the challenge of drawing them in various ways, trying to loose the iconography. We drew quick drawings with our non dominant hand, with continuous line, unsighted, ‘sneaky look’, negative spaces joined up etc. The objective of this first day was to build up a body of drawings which we could work from the next day to create compositions for a future work.

A1, Pencil, wrong hand, unsighted, 3 mins

A1, unsighted, pencil, 5 mins

A2, pencil and charcoal, unsighted

A2, charcoal, neg spaces

A1, charcoal and white pastel, c 20 mins

These exercises show how difficult I find it to loose the representation, the longer I sketch.

In the afternoon, we sketched in the garden. Here the objective was to use the structural aspects of the garden with the organic shapes to find a variety of mark, shape and mass which could be selected and isolated or joined in different ways in a subsequent composition. Again, we were trying to loose the representation and just let the subject suggest marks or shapes. We all found this even more difficult in the garden. Jane suggested trying moving around and sketching the garden from different aspects in the same drawing.

A3, charcoal

A3, charcoal

A3, stick and ink

A3, stick and ink

A3, charcoal

A4, ink on stick

A4, ink on stick, charcoal

A4, ink on stick

A4, ink on stick

The next day, we thought about strategies for taking our drawings and making an abstract monochrome composition from them, either completely abstract or retaining some slight iconography of the original subject.

Strategies included:

  • tearing up and rearranging
  • painting over and obliterating in areas
  • adding paper to margins and extending
  • over drawing one drawing on another
  • redrawing and selecting
  • cropping
  • collaged papers
  • cutting up and weaving or rearranging in a grid (ref Kelly)
  • rotate some elements relative to others
  • joining shapes, neg or pos

I felt much more inspired by the organic shapes than the chair drawings, so I used the latter as practice for manipulation.

Adding charcoal and white paint, joining shapes

Uninspired and uninspiring. I went back to the garden sketches and drew from a couple of them, enlarging the shapes of the tulips, adding the loopy lines of plant supports and black shapes of clumps of perennials. I forgot to take a photo of this before I decided to tear it up and put the pieces together  another way, extending lines and shapes onto new paper.

Some shapes are still recognisable here, I then cropped into one bit, about a third, which I found the most interesting.

The drawing was added to, subtracted from with white paint and finally torn up again and the pieces rearranged.

Drawing was added to relate the shapes somewhat whilst trying to keep a balance of positive and negative space. I regretted that I had cut, rather than torn some shapes when cropping.

This has now completely lost any iconography of a garden. I can find a landscape within this, with an exciting sky, if rather literal land.

I like the idea of making very big marks for a very big sky.

Turning back to the garden, I made an even more gestural sketch.

Drawing on newspaper which I have previously used as worktop protection whilst painting, was really useful as a device for loosing representation. A stick with ink is great for creating a gestural, inexact mark. Once again, I tore this up, glued parts down onto new paper, and added some lines in ink, suggested by my earlier drawings of a tree and climbing rose. Watery, white paint was added to soften tones by making the ink run.

A3, collage, ink and white paint

With the day drawing to a close, I drew three marks on paper, suggested by the garden forms, and then tried to unite them in a composition.

A3, ink and paint

This sketch used carbon stick and white acrylic paint. Mixed on the paper with the paint, it forms a lovely bluish grey.

It felt decadent to spend days experimenting and I came away with an appetite to try painting again, beyond the representational watercolours I used to do years ago. I find workshops really useful for exchanging ideas, freshening up my own, putting into practice the stuff you might know but don’t give yourself time to do but should. It was lovely to meet new artists and look at their work and to be invited into Jane’s home and see her work. I was also grateful for being introduced to the work of Simon Carter and his excellent blog where he discusses the development of work from sketchbook to possibly finished painting with great honesty and humour. This was a very productive couple of days.

American Dream

The current American Dream exhibition at the British Museum is best exhibition of fine art printmaking I have ever seen. I have been to other exhibitions there, such as Picasso’s Vollard Suite  and the Japanese Shunga exhibition, both of which were really enjoyable and informative, but nothing matches the sweep of this exhibition. It looks at recent (since Pop art) and contemporary printmaking in America, with particular focus on how the artists are reflecting their contemporary culture. As you might expect, there are significant works by Rauschenberg and Warhol, but the scope of the works goes far beyond the obvious.

Some of the artists featured just happened to have made some prints and, because they are well known, their prints are included here, but I don’t think the prints inform their oeuvre or that they really exploited the unique possibilities of printmaking. Lichtenstein, for instance, does his usual stuff and it is indistinguishable from his paintings (though, of course, editioned). They could be giclee photographic prints. Other artists really pushed their work through the medium. For instance, Oldenberg’s etchings clearly relate to his more famous works but are uniquely themselves and Jasper John’s lithographs exploit the way oil based medium lies on the stone and can then be manipulated.

Rauschenberg was supremly inventive with printmaking, combining photographic imagery, lithography and screenprinting, all in the same monumental work. His life sized self-portrait ‘Booster’ (1967) is an object lesson in pushing an experimental approach and combining everything learnt into something new.

Jim Dine exploited the opportunities of printmaking by making a plate for the print ‘Five Paintbrushes’ (1972) and then developing the plate through subsequent ‘states’ to create a sequence of prints. The third state, fourth state and sixth state show how the plate was gradually enriched.

Two other stand-out works were Chuck Close’s colossal mezzotint ‘Keith’ (1972) both for its heroic endeavor (mezzotint is a very painstaking process, and most are, therefore, very small) and for the way he embraced the record of the process. Repeated trial printing reduced the tone around the mouth and exposed the grid system he used, and he chose to retain, rather than fight, this. The other work was Frank Stella’s ‘Cone’ (1987), a very large screenprint or a black shape, almost completely filling the canvas, with gently curved edges echoing his sculptures. The black shape is full of dense, raised, glutinous texture created by forcing oil paint stick through a silk screen; more inventiveness via the printmaking process.

In addition to the artists you would expect to be represented, there where many I was interested to be introduced to such as Kara Walker, Kiki Smith and the exquisite woodcuts of Veja Celmins. There were others whose work I love and was delighted to find represented here such as Louise Bourgeois and Julie Mehretu. Women are increasing represented in the exhibition as the time line progresses.

If, of the hundred’s of wonderful prints, I could take one home it might be Eric Fischl’s ‘Year of the Drowned Dog’ (1985). This series of etchings is full of the glittery light of the west coast and the sparkling colours familiar from a Hockney painting. There is mystery in the possible narrative around the body of the dog and the groups of people. From a technical point of view, the combination of techniques (aquatint, soft ground etching, scrapping and drypoint) to achieve the rich tones and then the outstanding inking make this a printmaking tour de force. The  six prints  can be combined in different ways to vary the narrative and I would never get bored of rearranging and enjoying this work.

This is undoubtedly the best exhibition of prints I have ever seen, and I think it may well be the best I will ever see.