Two Flights of Swallows

So, now to the final hangings…

Having started the printing for the project in January in a world of snow and ice in Sweden, I had got hooked on the idea of doing a flock of crow silhouettes in flight. This is something I often see in the fields around where I live and would have fitted in with my original idea which included more work on the actual wall lines and the geography of the land. However, it didn’t seem very fitting when combined with the meadow imagery and was far too wintery. I briefly considered creating prints of various birds associated with meadows but was wary of it becoming an ‘I spy’ and looking a bit naff. It is quite easy to get hung up on the educational side of things and neglect the aesthetic and I definitely didn’t want to do that. So I decided upon two flights of swallows. This seemed pretty apt considering that I see them feeding over the meadows every day and they are associated with the arrival of summer in the same way that a field of meadow flowers can signal that summer days are here. IMG_1921 (1)

I have to say that these were the easiest hangings to print which was something of a relief (excuse the printmaker’s pun) after putting so much time and effort into the other ones. I started by ordering A3 sheets of 4mm EVA, 2mm perspex and a roll of double-sided adhesive paper. I then spent a day researching the flight patterns of swallows and drawing as many different shapes as I could come up with before tracing them all off and moving them about on long (to scale) strips of paper. When I’d got the designs how I wanted them, I glued each swallow in place and numbered it before scaling up each drawing to fit on an A4 sheet of paper. I then traced each one onto a piece of foam and cut it carefully out with a scalpel before cutting a piece of perspex as a mount and sticking it on to that with the sticky paper. Two days work as opposed to two weeks! 40E2268A-CE48-49C2-AEAF-DB520DD915FBI’d already hired the local village hall (very local, its down the lane that I live on) and I went in on Friday lunchtime armed with all the hangings, screen printing ink for fabrics, foam rollers, and lots of clean newsprint. I got three long tables out, covered them with clean paper, put radio 4 on and got to work. By the time The Archers came on, I’d printed the first hanging. I made sure to stay scrupulously clean, wash off each block after printing, so I didn’t have a massive load to do at the end, and print slowly and methodically to avoid silly mistakes. I used my long scale drawings as a map and I’d numbered each block so I knew which went where.

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After that all I needed to do was to iron all the hangings and roll them up. The next instalment will be the installation…

Large-scale Collagraphs

Its been a long, long road to get to this point but as I write, I’m just about to cut the final blocks for my last two hangings and will be printing them in Horton-in-Ribblesdale Village Hall later in the week. Grassington Festival is a week and half away and I’m up at the barn later today to do some final clearing up. Most importantly, I have also successfully completed my 4-metre collagraph!

I should also mention that I spent a day at ArtisOn Ltd in Masham thanks to the lovely Gaynor and Sue letting me use one of the studios for hemming the five hangings. I am also totally indebted and eternally grateful to Lorraine Garlick and Sheila Smith who gave up their free time to sew 47.5 metres of fabric for me. That is true friendship! I don’t have a sewing machine and I have very little sewing experience so what could have been a total nightmare, was actually pretty straightforward and the results are beautiful.

When I embarked upon this project, I don’t think I fully understood the implications of attempting to print a continuous 75 x 400cm collagraph but I’m glad that I didn’t let all of the set-backs and logistical problems put me off. Working on such a large scale has been challenging but really exciting. First I had to sort my design out so I worked on four pieces of cartridge paper that I divided into 1 inch squares (7 1/2″ x 10″) with the idea that I could then apply a grid to the large pieces of mount board and redraw the design using the sketch as a guide. This did work but the initial drawing took two and half days to do and then each plate took a day to draw out not to mention a day each to cut.

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The finished drawing (hard to photograph!).

My idea was that the collagraph would be a close-up study looking through a bit of meadow with a number of different flower species represented. I chose to include eyebright, yellow rattle, birds foot trefoil, bush vetch, red clover, wood crane’s-bill, meadow buttercup, pignut and sweet vernal grass. These are all species that I’m familiar with and that are found in upland meadows here in the Yorkshire Dales. I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy and detail so each plant needed to be researched and I wanted them to be accurately in scale with each other. FullSizeRenderUsing the grid system to upscale the drawings worked really well and took me back to my college days. I used four full sheets of mount board to make the plates and mainly used cutting, wood glue and gesso to create the collagraph.

I soon realised that printing at that scale, it was best to keep things quite simple but it was still a bit of a challenge to work out how to do the veins on the leaves and pignut is a such a delicate and frothy plant that it did take a lot of work to get the look just right. In the meantime I had been searching for a place to physically print the work because I needed a press that could accommodate a 75cm wide and metre long collagraph plate. No small task and I actually found myself waking in the night and having panic attacks about not being able to print the plates once I’d made them. I even found myself trying to work out how I could get such large pieces of card over to Sweden as I know Ålgården’s press would have been perfect. Fortunately I found out that Northern Print in Newcastle have a lovely big intaglio press and I made an appointment to have an induction and to print the first plate. It is a 2 1/4 hr journey to get there on a good day (with no traffic & no accidents) and my first visit saw me getting up at 5.30am and hiring a dog walker in order to get there on time and not leave my furry pals crossing their legs all day.57F6D87A-07E4-4F88-9D71-6811EE094C84

It was an unbelievable relief to discover that when I book to use the large electric press, I have sole access to it for the whole session and so can work slowly and methodically whilst not worrying about anyone else needing the press or having to reset it. I am now a member of the studio and have plans to go back and create more large-scale collagraphs there.

Each plate initially took an hour to ink and forty-five minutes to wipe in order to get a paper proof. I needed to do that for each one so that the plate would ‘settle’ and I could check it was printing exactly as I wanted it to. It meant that I had to book the press for 2 x three-hour sessions in order to print one section of the hanging. I won’t go into the entire process here as it was lengthy and stressful but imagine trying to handle an inky metre-long piece of card and print it onto a pristeen white piece of four metre voile and you’ll get a bit of an idea. I also had issues with the pressure on the first print and lifted a corner of the fabric to discover that the collagraph was pale and ill-defined. Fortunately I was able to lower it again and tighten the press to get a good print from it. After my first visit with the first successful section printed, I returned home triumphant to recount my exploits to my husband who then asked ‘but how are you going to make sure the plates match up and how are you going to get them all the same tone?’ To be honest, I hadn’t considered this but chose not to think about it too much and just to hope that I could work these problems out as I went along.

It took another two sessions (with the last one being from 10am to 8pm) to actually complete the design but it is fair to say that I’m really happy with it. Sure, there are a few flaws and I know that I could do it better a second time around (which I may have to if my Swedish contact does want to buy one for the hospital) but it is how I pictured it and I can’t wait to see it in situ.

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The first two prints successfully through the press.

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One left to print. Here I am rolling up the previous prints to protect them and make it easier to handle.

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The final print! All ready to roll up with tissue paper for transportation home.

Now I’m working on two flights of swallows that will be block-printed using screen printing inks designed for fabric and won’t require a press. Mind you, there are plenty of other factors that could go wrong but I’m choosing to ignore those for now too!

 

Smörblomma and Midsommarblomster

Well, the progress report from Sweden is that I’ve completed the prints on two of my 4 metre hangings but I’ll rewind a bit before I talk about that.

On deciding to do this project I had to face up to the fact that I am not a ‘textile person’ and I don’t own a sewing machine. I know nothing about fabrics and I had a few weeks of complete indecision and confusion about what material I should use for my hangings. I am fortunate to have friends that are very good textile artists so I sought their advice on what they thought might be good to print on. My stipulation was for something that would be a bit translucent so that the light would play with the prints, preferably have some stiffness so that it would be easier to print onto and hang nicely and not be too expensive. My friends didn’t let me down, they came back with organdie, organza or cotton voile. I then ordered some metre samples from a textile mill in Bradford called Whaleys. As I don’t have funding, cost was an issue and the voile comes in very wide lengths which could be cut up the middle to make two hangings for every four metres whereas the organdie is lovely but very expensive and too wide for a single hanging but too narrow for two which would mean a lot of wastage.

15995279_1257605010994160_405090192798362724_oThe organza was gorgeous but printing on it with reduction monotypes didn’t work at all so I chose the middle ground of voile and ordered 16 metres (the above image shows a monotype and a collagraph printed on voile). I then had a trip to the mill to pick it up the day before I headed to Sweden and spent a ‘fun’ two and half hours trying to lay it out and cut it into 4 x 4m lengths which I then had to divide in half and cut up the middle. I am so glad that I bought some rather expensive scissors for the job and didn’t try hacking it all with my kitchen scissors!

So, off I trotted to Sweden with a roll of fabric carefully packed inside my new giant kitbag. Last time I was at Ålgården I had had reactive arthritis in my knee and was unable to walk properly so I’d been confined to the studio and the immediate surroundings. Frustrated by my inability to explore further, I’d looked close by for inspiration and had collected some plants to photograph the shadows against my bedroom wall. I worked with this imagery in the studio creating reduction monotypes and photopolymer plates. I also made one very large print of a rosebay willow herb shadow and fell in love with the 1x2metre etching press.

Back in August last year, it occurred to me that I’d like to work with the shadows of the meadow flowers in a similar way but I’d missed the boat somewhat as most of them had either died back, set seed or been cut. Fortunately I managed to gather a few stragglers and took as many photos as I could using my head torch and the spare bedroom wall. It was these that I worked from in Sweden.

I started with a bunch of grasses and I made that print first but then realised that I really ought to design the hangings properly and work on the composition so I spent a day sketching and moving bits of tracing paper about on graph paper until I came up with a good design for two hangings that will hang either side of my 4 metre collagraph. This wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds as I spent an afternoon trying to create graph paper on the computer using word because the studio’s version of adobe was out of date and wouldn’t open the free downloads I got off of the internet. It meant I had to keep using google translate to understand the Swedish commands and it was something of a challenge but I managed it and got an A3 copy done (whilst the photocopier jammed repeatedly). I then went into the framing room and was searching for a ruler and came across a lovely pile of graph paper…I did feel slightly stupid. It’s things like that that make the ultimate success all the more sweet!

More on the reduction monotype process in the next post but before I go today, I’ve had some interesting conversations with some of the artists here and found out that buttercup is smörblomma (butter flower) and wood cranesbill is midsommarblomster (midsummer flower). I’ve also discovered that the meadows are as much under threat here as at home and that our upland meadows have the same species of flowers. Not that surprising really but quite a good link between the two countries that I may be able to use in the future.

Within These Walls

So, apart from continuing Collections and also making some work for the next Printmakers Circle show (at Sunny Bank Mills in April), I am currently working on a large-scale print installation. This is a huge challenge for me and something that is both exciting and daunting in equal measures. The story behind it (abridged to prevent boredom) is that in 2015 a printmaking colleague asked me if I’d like to join her in creating a print installation in a field barn for the Grassington Festival (highly popular and well-respected arts festival). Never wanting to turn down the opportunity to do something different I immediately said yes. She met with the organisers of the festival who suggested some possible barns and we went on a reconnaissance mission to check them out. This involved yours truly wading about in sheep and pigeon poo to see if the barns were suitable for our idea.

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We found one and duly contacted the owner who was very keen and agreed to let us use it. Roll on to September and I took my colleague over to Sweden to visit the Ålgården studio and we enlisted two of my Swedish artist friends to take part in the project (which was to have a Scandinavian theme). Due to the fact that I was getting married during the 2016 festival and already had a large workload on for 2016, we agreed to work towards the 2017 festival and the idea was to try to get some funding.

Unfortunately, in November 2016 my colleague said she no longer wanted to go ahead with the project and it looked like that was that…except that I have always wanted to work on a large scale and had a head full of half-formed ideas. I realised that I couldn’t ask my Swedish friends to be involved with something where I had no funding, nowhere for them to stay and no real idea of what I was doing or how it would work so I thought I’d see if I could do a scaled down version on my own with a view to expanding on it as a collaboration in the future.

Its safe to say that my ideas have grown and I’ve met with Ian (who owns the barn) a few times and, being a fellow fellrunner and also a keen conservationist, we have hit it off and I’m really excited about what I might do in his barn. Roll on to the present day and I have just completed the first of 5 (or 7 if time allows) 12′ long hangings! But let’s not get ahead of myself as I want to document the whole process.

Firstly, I needed a theme. I didn’t actually need to look that far because I was already documenting and making work based on two meadows close to my house. A Yorkshire Dales upland meadow is a thing of beauty, a habitat for abundant wildlife, a valuable winter food source for livestock, has a rich cultural heritage and, unfortunately, is also seriously threatened by modern agricultural ideas and methods. We have lost 97% of our meadows! Ten years ago, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, set up the ‘Hay Time Project‘ which aims to work with farmers to protect and restore meadows across the Dales and the Forest of Bowland (there’s a very good book available about the project). A good meadow can have up to 130 species in a field whilst the best meadows can have up to 40 species in just a square metre.

Anyway, I’ve been slightly obsessed not only by the abundant species of flowers and grasses in my local meadows but by the drystone walls and field patterns that form our local landscape. The barn that I will be presenting my installation in is a traditional eighteenth century field barn with a mewstead for storing hay and a shippon for winter housing of cattle. I am developing ideas and imagery that I have been exploring via other projects such as in my bookmaking and via Collections. So that’s a bit of background. Next I’ll be writing about the logistics of getting from cluttered headspace to printing 12′ lengths of fabric!

(NB: Within These Walls is the title of my project for obvious reasons)

Collections Update

cox-h-the-collectionAs I am not a very prolific blogger, I need to post a project update before I can tell you about what I’m currently doing in Sweden! Collections opened at Masham Gallery in November and has just come down after a very successful first run with lots of visitors, great feedback and plenty of sales. What more could we ask for? I’ve updated my website with a gallery featuring all of the prints that were shown. Above is a piece called ‘The Collection’ which is inspired by my own collections and features collagraph prints on wooden blocks in a traditional printer’s type case. The prints are sealed with acrylic wax to protect them and the whole piece can be hung on the wall.

The above pieces (two of which have sold) are collagraph prints on blocks displayed in box frames with found objects. The one featuring Pen-y-ghent came about as a result of me finding some skylark eggshells whilst running the Yorkshire Three Peaks Route! I carried the shells nestled in an emergency bivvy bag and was totally amazed that they remained undamaged for the remaining 19miles of the run. It was a glorious day and the larks sang at every step.

Our next exhibition of Collections will be at the lovely Ryedale Folk Museum Gallery and will run from 27th May – 16th July 2017. We will be supplementing the Masham exhibition with new work and also some pieces inspired by the museum’s own collections. We were very fortunate to have a guided tour by museum director Jennifer Smith and one of her colleagues. Soon we were handling ornate fragments of green glass made illegally in Rosedale by French Huguenots fleeing from religious persecution at home; leafing through a scrapbook full of amazing fragments of historical handprinted wallpaper & admiring the eclectic objects in the Harrison Collection.

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I’m really looking forward to starting on the new work but in the meantime…I’m back at Ålgården Studios in Sweden and I’m working on the first of 7 x 12′ hangings for my print installation in a field barn for the Grassington Festival in June/July this year. More on that next time.

Collections

So…what am I up to this year (apart from the usual exhibiting and selling in galleries)? Well, I’m making lots of new work and the majority of it will be for a joint exhibition in November. The show features my printmaking and the work of two friends and colleagues, Josie Bezant and Charlotte Morrison. Josie is an artist (and owner of Masham Gallery) who creates assemblages, collages, mixed-media pieces and paintings and Charlotte is a ceramicist. Charlotte and Josie also run Crafted by Hand (a multi-talented pair!). We’ve all exhibited together before but this is the first time the three of us have worked so closely on a project and shared a common theme.

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I’ve always collected natural objects: stones, bones, feathers, skulls etc., and whenever I am walking or fell running I am constantly on the look out for these ‘natural treasures’. The significance of my finds is important to me. For example I am not so interested in the skull of a rabbit, a very common animal, as I am the skull of a curlew which, for me, symbolises the wilderness, moorlands and the arrival of spring. Coming across a pile of linnet feathers with one lone tail feather from a merlin was so exciting and told a complete story of an act that is rarely seen by humans. It triggered the work below which is called ‘The Huntress’ and features a collagraph print, linnet feathers and a twisted heather branch.

The Huntress

I’m really enjoying using some of my finds within the finished pieces and there will be a number of ‘one-off’ multi-media works at the exhibition. Over the next few months I’ll be writing posts about some of the works that I’m making and you can also read more about the project at our website. Josie, Charlotte and I envisage that this will be an ongoing project and that the exhibition will tour to other venues and perhaps collect more artists along the way.

 

Life in the Slow Lane

I’m currently in Sweden at Ålgården again and for once in my life I’ve had to slow down. At the end of July I successfully completed the Lakeland 100. This is a 105 mile race around some of the most beautiful parts of the lake district and I had a really good run. I spent the followng weeks on a high, imagining the future strength I’d have and planning for a Bob Graham Round attempt. Six weeks and lots of running later and I have developed a mystery knee injury and can no longer walk without hobbling. It could be reactive arthritis or it may be an injury that didn’t hurt at the time but certainly does now! I’m being tested and examined and hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of it but it is really debilitating.

However, I’d already made plans to come to Ålgården with a friend and colleague, Barbara Greene. She wanted me to show her the ropes so I thought I’d come anyway and just do whatever I could manage. Barbara and I met through Chrysalis Art‘s Connections North project and were both selected as two of the ten printmakers from North Yorkshire to take part in the Mirror Images exhibition. I will write a separate blog post about that as it is a fantastic project involving forty Finnish, Scottish, Swedish and Yorkshire printmakers. Barbara and I hope to collaborate on a future project so it was a good opportunity to talk and exchange ideas too.

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(a fellow printmaker or an accident in the DIY shop car park?)

It has been frustrating to be able to see the dense forest but not be able to get into it but I’ve made myself look for inspiration closer to home and am currently exploring the traces of nature found in the city and around the studio. I’m working on a few ongoing projects simultaneously whilst exploring ideas for a future project and I’m using the time and wonderful equipment here to try out things that I wouldn’t do at home. I tested a pot of Akua Intaglio ink which I brought from home to see what it was like to work with. It is perfect for reduction monotypes because it doesn’t dry on non-porous surfaces so you can work with it indefinitely before printing. It also cleans up with soap and water and yet the print has the same velvety qualities of an oil-based print. With some precarious balancing on a stool and on one-leg, I managed to produce an A1 monotype that I printed on the lovely big etching press. It has a bed sized 1metre x 2 metres and one day I’ll use the whole thing.

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Creating a reduction monotype on an old aluminium litho plate.

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The beautiful etching press (the big one, there are three!) with my print drying behind.

Whilst I may not be very mobile, I’m still getting about thanks to my very kind Swedish artist friends. Christina picked us up from the airport and drove us to the studio and she also invited us to her house for dinner, Lennart has lent me a walking stick (he’s 80 but says he no longer needs it!) and Torbjörn collected me and drove me to the Borås hospital to show me their amazing art collection (and I stocked up on painkillers). He is project director for the region and organises the buying and displaying of art for public spaces such as hospitals, health centres and dental practices. I was so impressed by the work on show at the hospital and the thought that had gone into its display and selection. Not just the more figurative and accessible work that you’d expect but very good quality contemporary pieces and in all kinds of media such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, textiles and glass. Tomorrow Anna is taking us both to see an arts and crafts place called Nääs so that will be a lovely trip out too.

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Today I made 12 small collagraph plates from plaster creating impressions in them from the fallen birch leaves that I’ve collected. I will print these and hope that the leaves will be very subtle. I then plan to overprint with further imagery relating to the city. I associate the birches so much with Sweden and I find their leaves everywhere, in the studio, on the pavements, in the supermarket etc. I’ve also been making monotypes of the shadows of plants growing round the studio too. All the traces of nature that creep into the city and that I seek out when confined to urban places. Really I’m just playing but that’s why I like it here, it gives me the time and headspace to do that and who knows what will develop from my experiments.