Odds and ends at the end of the year

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a range of different artworks, in a somewhat disjointed way. I have had the (totally delightful) distraction of the unexpectedly early arrival of my first grandchild, a little girl called Lumi. She was tiny, but is thriving, clearly a determined individual! And now the lead-up to Christmas provides other distractions.

On one day last week I heard that I had made two sales, very different artworks in different places. One was a painting, sold through Bluethumb, an online gallery. I have had work there for about a year and a half and had previously sold two paintings to the same buyer, but that was all, so this was a nice surprise. The other sale was one of my miniature hand-made books which was in an end of year group show, this too was quite unexpected. Neither work is new, but I had faith in them both, so it is good to know people liked them! The painting is called ‘Enigma’ and is oil on board and the book is called ‘Sleeping Beauty in Short, a book in a box’.

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Etching is a print medium I have always loved, but have done little of in recent years. It is time-consuming and heavy on equipment, so when a printmaker friend who is also a magnificent teacher said she was going to conduct two mentor workshops in using aluminium plates (as opposed to copper or zinc which I have used in the past) I seized the opportunity. We had a small group of wonderful artists, it was an enormously pleasurable experience and I was reminded of the scope within etching, and how much I enjoy it. There are a few fundamental differences with using aluminium – the acid for etching is very gentle, and easily accessible from any hardware store, and there is no need to go through the complexities of applying aquatint in order to create tones, as when areas of the aluminium are left exposed in the acid, it bites leaving a texture on the plate. The darkness of the tone can be controlled by how long the plate is left in the acid – it can be pulled out and blockout applied to the areas to be kept lighter. The downside is that it can be unpredictable, and it is more difficult to obtain the clear, fine lines that are possible on copper or zinc, but this unpredictability is what I am hoping to exploit when I make more plates next year. The first image below was comparatively controlled, the second one is the same size (10 x 15 cm) and was more experimental in the way I blocked out areas, then wiped off bits of the blockout in an almost random way.

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Drawing into my monoprints is continuing – a never-ending source of surprise and pleasure! The image below is a small part (about 20 x 20 cm) of a larger piece, with a ghost mono print underneath, worked into with coloured pencils. I am now thinking of simply taking the elements that work from these larger pieces and treating them as small finished works. I haven’t come up with a title for this one, so any suggestions welcomed!

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I am so grateful for the continuing support from the people who visit this blog, and who follow me on Instagram and Facebook. So many developments and new directions have come from the intelligent and thoughtful comments that you go to the trouble to make. I am constantly inspired by seeing the work of artists I follow too, so thank you, have a wonderful, peaceful Christmas, and looking forward to an inspired and productive New Year!

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Small worlds

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One of the monotypes that I made back in May has moved into its next stage of development. It started as an abstract image in cool, soft colours. Then I started to work into it with coloured pencils, developing some areas, adding form and tone, creating depth and texture. This stage was quite pleasing, but I knew it couldn’t stand alone as a framed image, so I put it aside till inspiration struck for its further development, which it did last week.

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The monotype in its original state
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After coloured pencil was added, and turned 90 degrees

One form of social media I am very fond of is Instagram, I only follow artists and find it endlessly inspiring, sometimes scrolling through images something will stop me, and an idea will come from it. One thing I saw recently was work from artists in the Middle East and a small image of a mass of circles joined in a curtain-like arrangement gave me the ‘Ah ha’ moment I needed. I knew the answer to the future of this particular image was circles. I have a small tool that can be set to cut circles of different sizes, so I set it to a diameter of 6 cm and started cutting, completely randomly, deliberately not choosing what fell within each circle. Eventually I ended up with 25 circles. One of the friends that I create art with every Friday offered me some concertina-folded paper, just to see how the circles looked on either grey or white. Serendipity again – I think they look beautiful just on these concertinas! However, there are still 15 left, and these may be joined together with jump rings to make a hanging artwork, or perhaps arranged in a panel like small portholes, or they may stay solitary – the next stage will answer that question!

I have  called them Small Worlds, as that seems to me to be what they are.

Monotype miniature book

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With a miniature art exhibition coming up, I decided to continue making monotypes, using the same approach I took in making larger works to make some miniatures. Using smaller stencils and a similar colour palette, I made a set of 16 prints, each 7 x 11 cm. Two of them happily stood alone, so I have framed them, and I decided I would like to make a miniature book out of some of the others. As usual, I went through a number of ideas and approaches before I decided on a concertina. I wanted to keep the torn edges of each print, so made a backing ¬†from a drypoint print, printed in ochre on brown paper (see below), then folded and glued 8 of the prints down. The imagery suggested to me the views you see in Central Australia – bright blue skies, red dirt and huge monolithic rock formations, so I have called it ‘Mapping the Road from East to West’. Once the book was made, I felt it needed more depth and intensity, so with some trepidation decided to overprint it using the drypoint plate that made the texture on the back. If it hadn’t worked, I would have had to abandon the whole thing, but all was well, and I think it has enhanced the imagery, and the sense of Central Australia.

Once the book was complete I made a tag to contain all the details (the colophon), then had to decide on how it would be held together, whether a box, or a tie of some kind. The final solution was to make a slip cover, open at both ends, like the cover on a box of matches, from two of the remaining prints.

The title of the exhibition is East Meets West in Miniature – this is open to broad interpretation, so I decided to make it where East meets West in Central Australia.

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The individual prints
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The book with slip cover. The colophon tag is just visible underneath.

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The back
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The book in its case, with the colophon
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The two individuals before they were framed.

Monos and ghosts

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As the weeks go by, the monoprints are taking on a different character, becoming more representational but still have an abstract quality. Most of the forms are stencils, overlaid many times, with each layer responding to the previous one. I enjoy the serendipity and unplanned results, although I do plan the colour combinations with a degree of thoughtfulness.

I don’t clean the plate between layers, so residue from each application of ink remains and informs the following layers. Once I am satisfied that a print is complete sometimes I take a ghost print, which is simply the remnants of ink – some parts will continue to transfer, others will be exhausted. Below is a ghost print that initially was made after I sprayed water on the plate, intending to clean it, then decided to take another print. More layers were then added on top.

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The last image shows a set of 6 postcard sized prints which were placed randomly on the plate that produced the top image. Each one is complete in itself, but they also work together as a set.

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Stencil monoprints

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Each week’s printmaking session leads to the next. The stencilled birds have been an element for some time now, so I decided to use the stencil idea for more forms. The idea for this print stemmed from thinking about Central Australia, its desert landscape and massive red rocks, also the spindly, twisted black trees that are often found there. The result is not really like Central Australia, but still has an Australian landscape feel.

As the layers built, I re-used some of the stencils I had made previously. To apply the shapes to my acrylic printing plate I use a roller to apply thin layers of ink, often turning the stencils over, so excess ink then transfers to the plate as well, which is how the dark green tree forms appeared. I had not intended them to be trees, but clearly, that is what they are. The interesting textures appeared by a lack of care as much as anything else – when I finished printmaking last week, I piled the stencils into a plastic bag. This then adhered temporarily to the inky side of the stencil, making crumpled patterns, and thus was transferred to the plate when I pressed down with the roller. I love the serendipitous results of this method – it doesn’t work every time, but the good surprises make it worthwhile!

To make the stencils I used Yupo, which is a thin, plastic-like medium, like paper but shiny and non-absorbent. (I sometimes use it to draw on with Liquid Pencil, as it pools in interesting ways.) I simply draw the shapes I want on, then cut them out with a sharp blade.

Below are details of the above print, and also images of the first layer.

Before and After

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This is the result of drawing into one of my monoprints – the top image is the untouched monoprint and the lower is the enhanced version. In some areas I have added a lot of detail, in others I have left the original marks almost untouched. Overall, I have tried to bring the image together, to create a unified whole that tells a story. Its the kind of thing where I could keep working in to it, maybe I will, but for now I think it is done. Using coloured pencils in a limited range of tertiary colours leaves the monoprint colours intact below. However, it may end up being divided into smaller pieces, so that the eye can focus on more contained areas.

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Detail.

The overall image is about 43 x 34 cm.

Desert Morning

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The monoprints are continuing, still offering surprises. This one will be going into an exhibition in the next couple of weeks. Like the previous ones, this is the result of much layering, texture and tone being added each time. It is possible to see embossing in some of the lighter areas, created by paper ribbon and strings of raffia. I can see forms in this that can be interpreted in many ways, every viewer will have a different take on it, but I have given it the title of Desert Morning as this is what the colours and the transparency of light suggested to me. In the Australian deserts, such as the Simpson, the range of colours are astonishing, and every sand dune is patterned with marking from animals, insects, reptiles and grasses, and the marks I have unknowingly created resonate with the patterns found out there.

This print is 40 x 30 cm, using Schminke water-based inks on Magnani Corona paper.