It has been a really busy time for me over the last few months and I feel like I’ve worked harder than I have ever worked before. There have been a lot of late nights in the studio and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the Shipping Forecast and the National Anthem played before having to resort to some comedy podcasts to keep me going. Having said that, I’m certainly not complaining. In this difficult economic climate, I count myself as very lucky to be able to do what I do and make a living as an artist (just about!) whilst many are struggling. It is not always easy being on my own with only one income coming in but the sense of satisfaction from knowing that I can totally support myself doing what I love makes it all worthwhile.
Life can’t be all work (even if that work makes you happy) and I do do other things to keep myself amused and inspired. Fellrunning and having adventurous weekends with Brian is one way and playing about making artists’ books is another. For the last two years I have been really fortunate to have been attending a bookmaking course at Number Six Studio run by the fabulously talented and inspirational artist, Joan Newall. She is part of a group called Page, Paper, Stitch and you must check out their website to see her work. On Saturday we put up the exhibition of our final projects and those of Joan’s students on her courses in surface textiles and machine embroidery. The exhibition opens this Tuesday (9th July) evening at Number Six Studio Gallery, Pateley Bridge, 6-8pm and is then on daily until Sunday 14th July, 10am – 4.30pm.
Our theme for the year has been ‘worn surfaces’ and I have chosen to concentrate on the fragments of blue and white china that I have been finding on one of my favourite woodland walks by the Burn in Masham. During the summer, the little shards are often obscured by foliage but in the winter the porcelain pieces shine starkly through the rotting leaves. I’ve been collecting them and looking more closely at the details. Traditional willow pattern pieces show pagodas, cherry trees, bridges and fisherman and are the fragments of larger scenes so that to hold a piece in my hand is a glimpse into the life of the person that owned the plate but then beyond to the designer that painted it and beyond again to the story that they depicted. There are also pieces with ornate flower designs and trailing vine patterns that echo the plants and vegetation amongst which they were discovered. The layering of imagery and narrative is something that I employ in my printmaking and I was drawn to the idea of using photographic imagery taken from the china and combining that with print. I wanted to create objects that would provoke in the viewer the same emotional response that I got when I first discovered each piece.
Throughout the year I have been developing ways of creating papers that give a feel of the forest floor and I have created a box covered in the papers so that when the viewer lifts the lid to discover the sections within, it might feel like looking amongst the leaves in the woods.
Within the box there is a selection of the pottery shards and a book. The content of the book has been created from cyanotypes of the exquisite fragments and I’ve contrasted these with monotypes of natural forms found in the vicinity. I’ve used burning on the page edges to give the feeling of loss and age but also to hint at the home and hearth. Long ago, these pieces of pottery would have been used by somebody, maybe even daily, and that life is remembered here.
I really loved just playing about in the studio. The cyanotype part of the project took a lot of work and experimentation. I coated the papers and developed them in the sun using transparencies that I’d made. By working in Photoshop I was able to create negatives from my digital photos that could then be used for the positive prints. I was a bit over enthusiastic and waded in without any prior knowledge of the process and this meant that I made a lot of mistakes…I then read the instructions! I’m still working on a wall piece which will fold up into a book using small pieces of Du Chene paper, cyanotype, embossing and burning but it will take a while to iron out some of the problems I’m having and I will wait until I have more time for ‘playing’.
The exhibition looks great and the variety and quality of the other bookmakers’ work is astonishing. None would look out of place in a good gallery. I can’t wait to see the textile students’ work too.
Above is my work in situ along with the first ever lidded box that I made, a Belgian secret binding book and a hard bound book all made on the course. I really do love making books and think that they are a great medium for a printmaker. Later this week I will write another post with some examples of the other methods that I’ve explored on Joan’s course and my trio of crow books.