Monotypes on a Large Scale

Well, as is typical with my working life, I am back home and it has been one big whirlwind of printing for gallery deliveries, teaching workshops and planning new work but the installation is simmering away in the background and I’ll soon be back working on it again.

The good news is that I have been in contact with the director of the Grassington Festival and ‘Within These Walls’ will definitely be a part of it. I’ll be at the barn daily from 12-4pm and I’ll be printing on my portable press whilst there which will be good fun.

So, where was I? Ah yes, reduction monotypes on a grand scale. So the installation  will consist of two hangings featuring block-printed birds, two hangings featuring my reduction monotypes of the meadow flower shadows and one enormous collagraph as a centrepiece which I aim to create to appear as if you are lying in a meadow and looking through the grass. I am excited about working on such a massive scale although it will be a logistical nightmare and I am only hoping that the studio where I’ll be printing it has a suitably enthusiastic and supportive technician who doesn’t mind me taking over the big press!

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Making the monotypes in Sweden was an exhausting but lovely experience. Working on an old lithographic plate (80x100cm), I rolled it up with an oil-based black relief ink (Gamblin) and then I worked from tiny photocopies of my shadow photos. I carefully selected the images so that they would work well as a big design and also reflect the diversity of the plants in the meadows. I decided to work from very small images because I didn’t want to slavishly copy the photos but interpret them and work with the shapes to give myself more freedom. The monotypes were created by wiping away the ink using kitchen paper and hundreds of cotton buds. I must have got through about 500! It was a slow and painstaking process with one of the images taking 13 hours to produce but there was also a meditative quality to it and I think that is reflected in the final imagery.

Working at that scale was surprisingly physical and I was stretching and bending all over the place whilst creating the work. It was one of the reasons why I ran every morning, it helped set me up for the day, energised me and loosened off the stiff muscles from then day before. The woods and lakes were a stunning monochrome winterscape of ice and snow which totally reflected my mood and the work that I was making.

Making the prints consisted of spending most of the day wiping the ink away whilst listening to podcasts followed by some wrangling of the big press and printing onto the fabric first. Strangely, the reverse of the normal monotype process happened by which I mean that the fabric took a small amount of the ink and I was able to create lovely ethereal prints but it left lots of ink behind so I took a second print off on a full sheet of Fabriano Rosaspina paper and got a stronger image (normally the second image is weaker and called an exhaust or ghost print).

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I hung these up as the week progressed and they received a lot of interest from the other artists which was really encouraging. In fact, by the end of my two weeks an artist friend at the studio, Torbjörn Damm, had decided that he wanted to buy two of the prints in his role as art buyer for the region’s public spaces. I was thrilled and he has selected two paper monotypes to be displayed at a hospital in Alingsås. This not only boosted my confidence but has helped generate some decent income for a project that I am funding myself. It has also given me an incentive to expand the project to create a body of work that can be toured in galleries as well as barns…but let’s not get ahead of myself, I haven’t finished the installation yet!

Making the monotypes was so different from my usual collagraph printmaking. I spent ages creating the images on the plate but after I printed each design twice, I then wiped it all away so nothing remained. I like the ephemeral nature of reduction monotype making. It suits the subject matter too.

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Before I left Sweden, I had to pack all of the work that I’d created so that it was safe and protected for transporting by plane. I’m getting better at this and have devised a system of rolling the work around a cardboard tube and them bubble wrapping it so that it doesn’t get marked but isn’t too tightly coiled. In layering everything up, I started to see the printed images overlaid through the translucent cloth and it has given me further ideas for prints.

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So now I am back home and the next stage is to design the collagraph part of the installation. I will create the design on paper and then scale it up to be cut from four full sheets of mount board. Then they will need to be printed in succession on one of the hangings so that the design fits together as a 4 metre image. No mean feat but if it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t be so rewarding!

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)