Bookmaking: Part 1

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.

flyer inviteprivate view finished

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.

002 007

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.

017

013

015

 

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.

024

 

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.

 

Extreme Printmaking!

It’s been a busy few weeks. Last week was an exciting mix of workshops and meetings and culminated in the Connections North Seminar at Harrogate Studio Theatre. This concentrated on the artists residency opportunities available to artists in North Yorkshire . Arts Connections had invited me to speak about my experience of doing my printmaking residency at Ålgården in Sweden. Others giving presentations were representatives from the Finnish, Scottish and Swedish centres as well as Sarah Smith, a fellow artist who did a stone carving residency in Sweden, and a representative from the Arts Council of England. It was an exciting and inspiring day and I was especially pleased to see Christina Lindberg and Anna Mattsson again.

This week I have been mainly outdoors!

A few months ago Paul Mosley, Hackfall Officer for the Woodland Trust, asked me if I would be interested in running an Inset day for teachers at Hackfall Woods with the emphasis on printmaking outdoors. Always up for a challenge and with Hackfall  being a favourite place of mine, I agreed. 27th March seemed a long way away and I was sure that on the day I would be leading a group of teachers happily making prints in the sunshine as the birds sang. Suffice to say that, as the snow fell and then fell again, I have been worrying about the workshop for some weeks!

I’m a bit of a perfectionist and tend to be meticulous in my lesson planning so I knew that the only way to ensure success was to do a dry run of the workshop the day before it took place. That way I could ensure that everything would work in the current weather conditions. So I can actually say that I spent two days printmaking in the snow 🙂

Using ArtisOn as a base, Paul and I met our 12 teachers along with Hackfall volunteer Sue Cockcroft, who was invaluable as a printmaking assistant. We then set off to Hackfall in the minibus. Paul had explained the idea of story sticks and a couple of the teachers decided to have a go. Story sticks are a way to engage a child’s attention right from the start of the visit by getting them to look for found objects to attach to their stick using rubber bands throughout their walk. This provides a visual record of their journey through the woods. Apparently it stems from an aboriginal practise.

Image

I then discussed the Geoartcache project that I was commissioned to do by Chrysalis Arts for North Yorkshire Open Studios last year. I’ve created a trail in the woods that combines printmaking, book art, wildlife and folklore. Further details are on the Geoartcache website. Originally the trail consisted of 10 caches and the book cache but it has been adapted to allow for the caches that have gone AWOL due to flooding, storms and skulduggery! There are now six stamp caches and the book cache so do go and have a look if you are in the area.

Image

Slipping about a bit, we headed down the hill for a spot of bark rubbing and the chance to ‘meet a tree’ before heading to the ‘beach’ to do sun printing (ha!). I love sunprinting and it has so much scope as an educational tool. It is based on the principles of cyanotype which was discovered in the nineteenth century and became popular with engineers as a low cost way of reproducing their designs as ‘blue prints’. Anna Atkins used it to record her extensive plant and seaweed collection and these were collected together in what is generally considered to be the first book published with photographic illustrations. She is also considered by some to be the first female photographer although that is open to speculation with Constance Talbot (Henry Fox Talbot’s wife) often being cited as the first (amongst others). Anyway, the process is great for combining science and art and I soon had my teachers creating photograms by looking for interesting found objects such as leaves, twigs, feathers and sand to create images with. They then laid the objects on the light sensitive paper and placed a piece of perspex over the top to hold them in place whilst we waited for the weak sun to do its work.

Image

Fortunately, you can sunprint even when its cloudy so within ten minutes the exposed parts of the blue paper had turned a very pale bluey white and the paper was ready to be developed in my little tub of river water,

Image

The chemical in the parts of the paper that have not been exposed to UV light are water soluble and wash away leaving the paper white whereas the UV exposed parts turn a dark blue. The blue deepens as the paper dries to become a beautiful cyan blue (a clue is in the name).

Image

I layered all the developed prints carefully in small sheets of blotting paper to dry and we headed along the muddiest path in Hackfall to check out one of my geoartcaches, ‘Waterdog’. I retold the story of St.Cuthbert and the otters and demonstrated the stamp and then we headed to my favourite folly, Fisher’s Hall, for a spot of monoprinting. I love this folly. Its a magical and meditative spot where you can sit and watch the river whilst listening to the birds. Here it is earlier in the year.Image

I had to use oil-based water soluble relief printing ink from Lawrence Art Supplies as my speedball inks didn’t perform very well the day before because of the cold.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Everyone managed to make some lovely monotypes despite cold fingers but we decided that plasticine printmaking at the pond might just tip some of the less hardier members of the group into hypothermia so, instead, we headed up to the banqueting house to admire the view across the valley and in the other direction, to Mowbray Castle.

002

Chris was waiting with his minibus at the car park to take us back to ArtisOn for lunch. Sue Palin spoilt us with three delicious soups and bread followed by scones and two kinds of cake 🙂 Full up and a bit rosy cheeked from the snow, I then set about showing the teachers how to make prints and stamps from funfoam, how to explore textures of found objects by printing from plasticine and the amazing things you can do with relief collagraph techniques. None of which need a press or any expensive materials. Here’s one of my collagraph sample boards:

101

The teachers getting stuck in to making stamps.

011

All in all it was an excellent day and proved that the weather should be no obstacle to having a good time! In fact I distinctly recall the first workshop that I ever did for the Woodland Trust which involved me leading a group of printmakers around Hackfall in the pouring rain to gather inspiration for two days of collagraph printmaking. The results were amazing and reflected the weather.

Melanie Blades 1

So, if anybody is now keen to come printmaking in the woods, Paul is running a Family Day at Hackfall on the 10th April, 11am – 4pm. There will be pond dipping and I will be based in the Rustic Temple doing printmaking. Adults and children are welcome to come and have a go. For more information visit the Hackfall website. Booking not required. Hope to see some of you there and perhaps we will have some sunshine! 🙂

 

Busy busy busy!!

I can’t believe that it has been a month since I wrote a new post here. My residency in Sweden seems like ages ago and I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed by the amount of workshops that I’ve been teaching and exhibitions that I’ve been preparing for but there is light at the end of the tunnel and I am keeping my fingers crossed that by the time December comes, I’ll be able to start working on the ideas that I started at Ålgården.

In the meantime, as an update, my seven week collagraph evening course at Number Six Studio in Pateley Bridge is now three weeks in. I have seven returning students who have become ‘old regulars’ and one brand new student who has not done any printmaking before but has really thrown himself into the process and not been put off by the fact that he is also the only man on the course. I’m looking forward to seeing his collagraphs develop.

I’m also four weeks in to my Introduction to Printmaking Techniques course at ArtisOn Ltd. This is on a Tuesday afternoon and so far I’ve covered monotype, making a basic relief stamp, linocut and drypoint! My ten students seem to be enjoying themselves and we will be making collagraphs this week.

Rural Arts in Thirsk has been running taster workshops and I’ve done some three hour collagraph sessions and am about to run a two-day collagraph workshop on consecutive Fridays (16th & 23rd November). I also did a monotype class for the Leven Art Society and a linocut workshop at ArtisOn. After my linocut Christmas card workshop at ArtisOn in December it quietens down a bit and I’ll have more headspace for my own work. I enjoy teaching and it really keeps me on my toes and pushes my professional practise but it also takes up a lot of time and energy so it is important that I get the balance right and give myself enough time to work on my printmaking.

Winter exhibitions include group shows at Cambridge Contemporary Art, The Waterstreet Gallery in Todmorden, The Lime Gallery in Settle, Will’s Art Warehouse in Putney and I’ll be taking part in a two week show at RHS Garden Harlow Carr from 27th November to 9th December. Phew!

I was very pleased to be one of the fourteen printmakers selected for the West Yorkshire Printmakers ‘Flourish Printmaker of the Year’ award and had two of my prints on show at the exhibition in Mirfield. Sara Clarke won the award and there were three commended artists: Moira McTague, June Russell and Dan Booth. It was good to attend the preview and ceremony and meet up with other printmakers. This is one of my selected prints which was created during my Extending Practise Award last year. Chrysalis Arts funded me to be mentored by Jane Sellars, Curator of the Mercer Gallery in Harrogate, whilst I created prints inspired by the Vale of York Viking Treasure Horde. These went on display at the Mercer Gallery alongside the treasure.

It’s always interesting to see what sells and so far I have had quite a lot of success with my most recent print ‘The Raspberry Thief’.

This was inspired by watching a whole family of blackbirds feeding in my back garden. The male and two fledglings were stealing raspberries whilst the female wrestled with a large slug!

My most recent print was created last week and is of a mountain hare. I have been asked by The Lime Gallery in Settle to make a couple new hare prints for their winter exhibition. They are such wonderful creatures and steeped in folklore and mythology. I often watch them in the fields near where I live and have taken many photos. I’ve always wanted to see a mountain hare in its winter coat but haven’t yet. Maybe one day! Instead I have made do with making a little collagraph of a snowy hare.

I’m now working on another hare print and will photograph the different stages for my next post.

I’m already planning various exhibitions for next year and have been invited to take part in a show called ‘Flight’ at the Craft Centre and Design Gallery in Leeds. It will start in March 2013 and will feature four of my prints and four each from Janis Goodman, Pam Grimmond and Mike Smith. I’m also taking part in a group exhibition called ‘Our Feathered Friends’ at Cambridge Contemporary Arts which is also in the spring.

On a final note, I’m delighted to be having an exhibition with glass artist, Jane Littlefield at Rural Arts in Thirsk. This will take place from 16th March to 31st May 2013 and we have chosen the title ‘Telling Tails’. We met last week to discuss the show and discovered that we are inspired by the same things: wildlife, the countryside and the myths and stories that are connected to both. We plan to show glass and prints featuring birds and animals with an illustrative twist. We will both be running workshops to coincide with the exhibition.

Right, I’d better get on with the paperwork I need to finish before continuing with my new hare collagraph. More on that next time.

Final Days at Ålgården

I started this post whilst I was still at Ålgården but I had so much to do before I left that I never got the chance to finish it so here it is! The final days of my residency were quite intense but very satisfying. On Sunday I successfully exposed my latest graphite drawing as a photopolymer plate. Here is one of the first proofs. I forgot to mention the fact that all my prints are being printed onto cream Hahnemüle paper which accounts for the slightly pink/cream looking photos

I’ve been a bit obsessed with puddles in the forest and wanted to capture something of the feel of the pine forest after the rain.

It was also a beautiful afternoon on Sunday so I went for a long run with my camera to try and get as many photos as possible. I have built up a really good image bank that I hope will help me to continue my Swedish work during the winter months in the UK.

I then went into the studio with the intention of making some small monotypes of the autumn colour in the birch forest. However, I found myself making an enormous grey (not even black) monotype of the birches and it took me ages. I was so tired that I almost gave up on it but forced myself to finish. I think I wanted to make the most of having access to the huge press but it was a bit of a mistake. On Sunday night I thought it was an awful print but I looked at it in the cold light of Monday morning and it wasn’t so bad and will be useful as a reminder of things now that I am back home. Although it hasn’t travelled too well and will need resoaking. I packed all my prints up very carefully and they were fine but this was so big that I had to roll it and stow it in my case. Needless to say it is now squashed flat!

On Monday Ida Brogren, artist and illustrator http://www.syskonenbrogren.se, arrived with her camera and she took photos of me exposing the monotype transparency onto the photopolymer plate. Here are the two transparencies stuck together (there is a lot of overlap of ink).

Following all the steps described in my previous post, we exposed and developed the plate. I also exposed an identical plate using the same timings but using the aquatint screen that Björn had given me to see what the difference was. This is a picture (taken by Ida) of Christina and me examining the screens.

I’m chuffed to bits with the proof prints! (Here is the one made from the plate using the studio’s aquatint screen:

and the one made using Björn’s screen:

The dots on the above screen are more open and so you get a rougher and more grainy effect. It would be interesting on certain prints though and it is great to have it to start me off. Björn has also given me the details of the man in Gothenburg that makes the aquatint screen that I used. It would be a good investment for me to order one from him once I have made my lightbox.

I spent the rest of Monday printing and organising all my stuff for transporting back to the UK. I then found out that Modhir Ahmed was coming back to Ålgården to film people looking at his exhibition and then sharing their thoughts on his paintings. He arrived in the late afternoon and Ida stayed behind to help with the filming. She also made a beautiful meal for us of pea soup with creme fraiche and caviar with olive ciabatta and her friend arrived with the most delicious apple cake. It was a nice surprise because I’d intended working through and just snacking on a bowl of cereal! 🙂

Once we’d eaten, Modhir insisted that we were filmed looking at his paintings. I have to admit that I was a bit reluctant due to the large amount of work that I wanted to do on my last night but I managed to say a few words that I hope were meaningful before scuttling back to the studio. It got to about midnight and I decided that I needed to wind down a bit so I went to the lithography studio and made some acetate screens to take back to England. You may remember that this involves using a large and a small lithography stone with carborundum and water and it is a meditative thing to do. I made four which took about 25 minutes so I felt quite relaxed by the time I went to bed.

Tuesday was my last day at Ålgården and I was determined to say goodbye to the forest so I went for a 5 mile run in the rain. It was lovely with lots of jays and nuthatches flying about and I saw the friendly woodsman and was able to say goodbye to him too. I got back to the studio and Modhir Ahmed had a surprise in store in the gallery. He wanted us to come and look at his exhibition and in the night he had painted over all of his paintings in black and chalked a single English word on each. It was something of a shock but exciting too. He is a very interesting and well-respected artist in Sweden, full of ideas and energy. I found an article on the Ålgården facebook page that talks about it: http://www.bt.se/kulturnoje/konst/konstkuppen-malade-over-tavlorna%283472160%29.gm

I wasn’t able to do any more work but had the whole morning to pack everything up carefully and prepare a couple prints that I wanted to give to Christina and Björn and also one for Lennart who arrived just in time for my farewell lunch. He and Ute had made a print together for me too, I was really touched. Björn made veggie spaghetti bolognese and eight of us sat down to eat together. Then it was time to say goodbye 😦 Anna Mattsson kindly drove me to the airport and it was really good to spend the time with her. I managed to get through the luggage check in even though they had to mark my bag as ‘heavy’ and send it down the oversize baggage chute. They also let me on with a very heavy rucksack as hand luggage and a large parcel of prints. I was quite surprised but the plane turned out to be half empty so perhaps they were being generous with regards to the usual baggage restrictions.

I will really miss everyone that made me so welcome at Ålgården and I will also miss the fantastic opportunity to immerse myself in my printmaking without the pressures to teach or sell my prints. I already feel that it has been an extremely valuable time and I suspect that it will have a profound long-term effect on my printmaking and the way I view my work. Being amongst other professional printmakers in well-equipped studios exchanging ideas and learning new techniques has all the best attributes of being at art college but with the added maturity and insights that come from actually making a career from your artistic practise. I’ve been through some low points and some self-doubt but I have also reaffirmed the fact that printmaking is what makes me tick and is how I want to make my images. I find it exciting that, after eighteen years of printmaking, I am just scratching the surface of what can be done in one small area and now the photopolymer combined with my monotypes could be a whole new avenue for me to explore. 

I now have a really hectic couple of months with at least seven group exhibitions to prepare for and two printmaking courses to teach but I have light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the quieter months of December, January and February. I usually find this time quite uninspiring and my creativity is often at a low so I tend to just use it to restock my editions and prepare for the coming months but this winter I want to consolidate some of the ideas that I have had in Sweden, make further prints based on my experience of the forests and explore photopolymer printmaking further and see where that takes me. I need to build a light box but I have good advice from Christina and Björn as well as a good book on the subject and a friendly contact in the form of Rebecca Vincent at Horsley Printmakers (check out her lovely monotypes and etchings http://www.horsleyprintmakers.co.uk/rebecca_vincent.html).

I’ll continue to write here so please do check back in the future to see what I’m up to. Oh yes, I’m already considering the possibility of returning to Sweden once I’ve developed my ideas a bit further and also I am hoping that Art Connections will be able to develop their link with Ålgården. It would be great to see some of the Swedish artists in Yorkshire in the future and perhaps we could collaborate on something. Before I sign off for now, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone at Ålgården who made me feel so welcome and have become friends and also to Christine Keogh and Rick Faulkner at Art Connections for giving me this opportunity, it’s been just what I hoped for and more!

Vernissage(s)

Well, it’s been an exciting last weekend here in Borås. I’ve been continuing my experiments in photopolymer printmaking and have been to two exhibition openings (as well as a couple forays into the forest).

Modhir Ahmed, http://www.modhir.com/web/index.html, arrived on Thursday night. He is an artist from Iraq who has lived in Sweden for over thirty years and has an international reputation for his printmaking. He was here to put up his exhibition ‘Lord of the Earth’ in the gallery at Ålgården, where he is also a member. Friday was very busy with lots of people toing and froing in preparation for the opening and at lunch time we were all treated to a beautiful meal of smoked salmon and potatoes in a dill sauce (I’ve become a vegaquarian whilst I’ve been staying here as fish is a large component of most meals). In the evening, following my run in the forest, I went to the opening or ‘vernissage’ as they call such things here.

Lots of people came and when we were finally able to close the gallery doors for the evening, we all had a meal together in the Red House (the artists’ house where I stay).

Today was another busy day. It started with a lifedrawing session in the gallery. Our model today was Sassa, who was very good humoured and challenged us with no poses longer than 4 minutes and most were 2! It is interesting how the models lead the sessions here at Ålgården. All the life drawing I’ve ever done before has been led by the group, another artist or a teacher and the model played a passive role. I like the fact that the model is in control here. After the drawing, Anna Maria gave Ute and I a lift to another opening at a small town called Dalsjöfors. We stopped off at her house to pick up her husband, Peter, and were shown around their wonderful studio (they are both artists) and garden. The exhibition opening was for Ålgården member, Kristina Thun http://www.kristinathun.se/ who has been working every day since I’ve been here making beautiful lithographs and photopolymer prints.

I think her work is really atmospheric and her printmaking techniques are fascinating. She often uses up to seven different layers of greyscale to create her lithographs.

After that it was time to return to the studio and meet Anna Mattsson who had kindly offered to show me some techniques using wax including how to make image transfers and also work into wax on paper. It was really good fun and, during tonight’s run in the forest, I began to get ideas of how I might use it in my own work.

On the photopolymer front, I am currently waiting for two acetates to dry. I’ve created a much smaller version of the watery monotype that I did the other day. It was a two stage monotype but this time I wasn’t printing it and will be using it as a stencil so I needed to make two acetates to place on top of one another to create the whole picture. I used water soluble relief ink and that takes a few days to dry so I am now waiting (impatiently) for the acetates to be ready to expose onto my photopolymer plate. Ida has asked me if I will wait until Monday to make the plates so that she can come in and photograph the process. I agreed and am now glad that I did because I know what I’m like and if I wasn’t waiting for her, my impatience would have got the better of me and I’d have tried to expose them when they were still a bit wet and probably got them stuck to the plate 🙂 I’m also making another graphite drawing for a photopolymer plate and, all being well, will expose that tomorrow. A lovely surprise today was that Björn found an old ‘raster’ (or aquatint dot screen, as I now know it is called in English) that he’d made some years ago and he gave it to me as a gift to take home so that it will be easier for me to get straight on with my photopolymer printmaking. He also suggested that I prepare a load of films in the litho studio so I can take those home too.

I’m feeling really positive about this residency and the effect that it will have on my future printmaking practise. I’ve got stacks of ideas but also a real desire to experiment and push the boundaries of what I have been doing. I will talk more about that in another post but I need to get to bed now! I’ll leave you with a picture of Lennart and Kristina at the preview.

and Ålgården’s resident black rabbit 🙂

Adventures in Photopolymer!

Well, I promised that I’d write about my latest foray into photopolymer printmaking and so here goes!

To start with, perhaps I’d better explain what photopolymer is. As the name suggests, photopolymer is a light sensitive polymer. The material has been used in the commercial printing industry for years but in the last couple decades printmakers have adopted it and used it in a variety of ways to create original prints. I have used it myself and refer to it as solarplate because I use the sun to develop my plates. I first came across it when a good friend and fellow artist, Jon McLeod, was doing a residency at Highland Printmakers. I had just come back from travelling extensively overseas and was ready to create a body of work based on my travels. I wanted to include text and maps combined with my collagraphs but didn’t know how to. Jon suggested ImageOn film or photopolymer plate. He gave me a bit of a demonstration and I went off and bought a book on the subject. I basically taught myself everything I know (not a lot!) and have been able to make basic relief and intaglio plates using my photos and text which I then convert to pure black and white on photoshop and print out onto a transparency. This is then placed on top of a steel plate which is coated on one side with a light sensitive polymer (you can buy them from printmaking suppliers). The black part of the design blocks out the UV light and the clear parts let it through. Where the light hits the plate, the polymer hardens and where the black parts mask it, it stays water soluble. The great thing about it is that you can then wash out the black parts using warm water (no chemicals needed). The final stage is to expose the washed plate in the sun for a good hour or so to cure it and then it is ready for printing.

You have to do test strips to determine how much time the plate should be left in the sun and of course, the sun’s strength can vary due to the time of day and the season and you do actually have to have some sunshine in the first place! Many a day has been spent scrutinising the sky for a gap in the clouds so that I can develop my plates. I’ve actually got some good results with relief plates but my intaglio plates tend to have large areas of ‘open bite’ due to the fact that I can’t get mid-tones.

Anyway, I’ve been aware for a while that you can make really interesting photopolymer plates which will retain all the tones and fine detail of drawings and photos and will replicate the look of lithographs, etchings, drawings etc. Fortunately for me, Björn Bredstrom and Christina Lindeberg are experts in this field. Christina spent some of her valuable time teaching me to make the initial test strips today.

But…let’s not get ahead of ourselves! First you have to create the image that you intend to make into a printing plate and before you do that you need to prepare the transparency. This entailed using acetate intended for lithography. You need to roughen the surface of it to be able to draw onto it. This is a very satisfying process which involves wetting a large lithographic stone and squeegeeing your acetate onto the surface so that it doesn’t move about. You then add carborundum grit and water to the topside and take a smaller lithographic stone and grind it over the whole surface in a figure of eight for about four minutes. This gives you a surface with an even bite to it. You can then work on this with acrylic paint, graphite, tusche or any other light fast material. I used 6B and 4B pencils to create the transparency below.

The next step is to determine how long you need to expose your ‘raster’ for. I don’t know what the English name is but a raster is the Swedish word for an acetate with a random dot pattern on that replicates aquatint. You use it to pre-expose your plate before you expose it with your design. The tiny dots mean that you can get fine detail, mid tones and large areas of black without having ‘open bite’ (when you can’t avoid wiping out the ink from large areas of dark tone on your plate because it is completely washed away). I can’t explain it better than that so please google for further details if you haven’t already fallen asleep!

Christina helped me to make the initial test strip and Ida photographed the whole process (she is going to let me have copies) and made notes because she wanted to learn too. We had to cut a piece of the photopolymer plate and then mark a sheet of paper with sections and the timings written underneath. The numbers look odd because they are units not actual minutes and seconds.

I forgot to mention that we are not using the sun. We are using a rinky dink all singing all dancing light box!

You also have to make sure that you don’t expose the plate to light whilst you are in the process of preparing it. It is not so sensitive that it has to be done in a dark room but you do need to keep it undercover when you are in between stages and it is best to cut it in a very dim room. Once we had cut a strip of plate, we then put it in the light box and lowered the glass down onto it, set the vacuum pump to make a good seal and then exposed the whole plate for 1000 units of light….what about the ‘raster’ I hear you ask? Yes, well, we forgot all about that and only remembered when we went to cover part of the plate to start the tests. Whoops! We cut another strip (it’s expensive stuff so you learn a hard lesson when you make mistakes) and this time we laid the ‘raster’ over the top of the plate and then lowered the glass and set the vacuum. After the initial exposal to 1000 units of light, we then covered the marked sections at 100 unit intervals so that one end of the strip had been exposed to 1000 units and the other end had had 1900 units. This took quite a long time!

Next we had to develop the strip so we took it to the wash room and under a yellow light we sat it in a tray of warm water (room temperature) for a minute and then a further minute was spent gently brushing the surface of the plate under the water to remove the unexposed particles of polymer (the black dots of the ‘raster’).

We then had to dry the plate. You can use a hair dryer but here we have a great little drying box. After 5 minutes in there, the plate needs to be cured with a full dose of UV light so back it went into the light box for 15 minutes. Phew!! What a process and it was only a test strip.

After lunch my job was to ink, wipe and print the strip to see which part gave us the best black. The part that was blackest would indicate the amount of units of light needed to expose the plate. Unfortunately the test strip was inconclusive because we realised that the ‘raster’ must have moved each time we lifted the glass screen. Blast! Björn also suggested that we clean the sensor in the lightbox before we made another test strip. This time he told us to divide a strip of polymer into three segments and expose it at 750, 1200 & 1500 units. From that we should determine the range that we would need to make a further test strip. We should stick the raster down with tape so that it didn’t move when we opened the glass each time. The numbers seem a bit random and this would also mean going through the process described above twice and it was now 4pm but Ida and I decided to do as we were told in order to be ‘professional’ 🙂

Thankfully, the three segments showed us that 1200 units gave a lovely velvety black tone.

Björn told me that I needn’t make a further test but I should expose my plate to the raster for 1200 units and remove it and expose my design onto my plate for the same amount of units.

So…I went back and cut a piece of photopolymer plate to the right size and put it in the lightbox with the ‘raster’ on top of it, the glass down, vacuum on and exposed it for 1200 units. I then took away the raster and replaced it with the transparency with my drawing on and exposed that for 1200 units. I went through the developing process, drying process and curing process and after about an hour, the plate was ready to ink, wipe and print. I could see that there was a delicate design on it and I was really excited.

I printed the plate and it is just amazing…you get a perfect copy of your drawing! The only slight downside is that I don’t seem to be able to get a ‘white’. There is an overall grey tone to the print. This could be to do with the process but I suspect that the timing on the exposure of the design needs tweeking. I’ll ask Björn and Christina when they come in tomorrow. I’m now really excited about the possibilities. I am wondering if I could do a reduction monotype on acetate and instead of printing it, I could allow it to dry to make a transparency that I could expose to the photopolymer and then get a plate with all the beautiful marks that you get from monotype but that you can print repeatedly…the possibilities could be endless.

The other thing I need to do is to work out how I can transfer this process to my studio at home. I have a book that tells you how to make a lightbox and Björn says that he has had good results just using an overhead bulb or an anglepoise lamp (the light has to be uv or ‘cold’ light) but you have to make sure that the light stays at a fixed point above the plate and the distance from the plate has to be the same as the diagonal length of the plate in order for there to be an even coverage of light. There is also the small matter of the litho stones and preparing the transparencies but I am sure that improvisation might be possible. Tomorrow I am going to make a transparency using monotype techniques and ink.

Monotypes

Well, I was going to talk about photopolymer tonight but I’ve just had a busy evening in the studio and I’m not sure talking about technical processes is such a good idea at 23.00. Bear with me, I will go into some detail in my next post 🙂

I forgot to mention that I now have a housemate. Ute is from Kiel in Germany and, having enjoyed her visit last year, she has come back to Ålgården for two weeks of printmaking. She has a project that she would like to complete and has already been busy making drypoints in the studio. She’s good company and we went on a little trip to Alingsås with Lennart this morning. The idea was to visit Lennart’s favourite organic food store, the red cross second hand shop and then to have pizza in what they both promised me would be the best pizzeria ever! I’ll admit that it was pretty good and it has to be the cosiest and most colourful restaurant I’ve been to in a while. The organic food store was wonderful and I came back laden with apples, a squash and some chilli chocolate (for emergencies).

I

The drive was lovely too. The autumn colour is really beautiful at the moment. The forests are a patchwork of green, yellow, golds, reds and oranges. I’ll take some photos if the rain ever lets up!

Yesterday Lennart brought in one of his cast bronze sculptures to show me. He knows I’m  a big fan of crows and I love this one, it is so full of character and has a real presence when sat on the table next to you.

The rest of the day has been a good one. I had a sleepless night last night (possibly caffeine related!) and found myself mulling over what to do and where to go with my printmaking in order to make best use of the next few days. I knew I’d be making a photopolymer transparency but I couldn’t decide what to do for that either. So when I got back to the studio today I was really strict with myself and promised myself that I wouldn’t leave it until the transparency was drawn out. I made several starts before settling on a birch wood. I figure that it will be nice to have a few different kinds of prints of the birch forest to compare techniques. I’ll expand more on the process in my next post but once I’d finished the drawing, I felt in a really good mood and ready to make something else so I decided not to go running today in case I broke the spell and instead I holed up in the studio all evening. 🙂

I’m still frustrated about not being able to depict the pine forests and so I went back to basics and decided to do a reduction monotype. I figured that if I did it in two stages, I’d get around the problem of how to depict the dark trunks but still have a darkish background and the light coming through the trees. It took me about three hours to complete and I was using water soluble ink so I was a bit concerned about re-soaking the paper after the first plate was printed. The result was that when I printed the second stage on top of the first, the ink didn’t transfer so well because it was drying out and the paper was drying out. However, I am happily surprised by the result.

It still isn’t how I’d envisaged it but strangely enough, the ethereal pines against the very watery looking background captures more of the atmosphere that I experience on my rainy runs than I would ever have imagined that I could achieve!

I had printed the ‘ghost’ print (the traces left on the plate after the first printing) and ironically the paper was too wet so I got a really abstract result but when I printed the ghost trees over the top, because there was still a lot of ink left on the plate, I got an interesting second print.

I had a happy evening working tonight and Ute and I seem to work really well together. We are both quiet and keep ourselves to ourselves but when we hear the press going, we both tentatively wander over for a peek at each other’s work and it is a nice combination of having privacy to work but encouragement and an opinion if we want one.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can get Christina or Björn to help me expose my photopolymer plate tomorrow. I will report back with my progress.

Up and Down and Up Again!

I haven’t posted here for a few days for a couple reasons. One being that I’ve been quite busy but the other is that I’ve been on a bit of a mental rollercoaster! After a lovely day out with Lennart on Thursday, I came into the studio on Friday morning feeling tired but determined to create that elusive masterpiece that I had convinced myself I had to make 🙂 Unfortunately I also had a rather large backlog of emails to answer, exhibitions details to sort out and general admin for my printmaking back home that I couldn’t put off any longer without risk of losing some valuable opportunities (seven exhibitions coming up in autumn!). That put me in a bad frame of mind. I decided the best thing to do would be to spend the morning getting on top of all of that. This I did, but in the process I became aware of how I’ll be returning into the thick of things. Then I thought I really must get on with some of the slowly germinating seeds of inspiration that I’ve been having here. The thing about being an artist is that you can’t do that. You can’t just pluck a great print from thin air. As the day disappeared, and I was asked a couple times by artists in the studio if I was actually going to do something other than stare at a piece of cardboard, I realised that when I’m trying to draw blood from a stone, I find it even harder when there are people watching so I gave up and went for a run!

The good thing about running is that it can be very meditative and that, combined with the peace of the forest, put me in a more positive mood. I determined that tomorrow would be another day and went to bed!

On Saturday there was a life drawing class in the gallery and I was looking forward to it but had woken with a migraine in the night so I was a bit groggy from medication. However, it was a really good thing to do. It was very difficult. The poses were short, mostly two or three minutes, with a seven, eight and a ten minute pose thrown in. I’m such a slow worker! I was just beginning to loosen up and really gain an understanding of how to tackle the quick sketches and the two hour session was over! Mind you, it really stood me in good stead for later in the day. I also met some great people including an artist who is 98 and arrived by taxi using a scheme which I believe is called ‘Fair Share’ and provides free transport for elderly people presumably because they have done their fair share for society and are due some returns. It strikes me as an excellent idea. She and her friend were not only very talented artists but really interested in discussing my prints and the other work on show in the gallery and they have recommended some exhibitions for me to visit.

After the class, Lennart arrived to take me to the opening of his friend Gunnar Bergh’s exhibition at Flamenska.

My head was still pounding and I felt a little antisocial but Gunnar’s paintings are best described as gentle and full of expression so it was a lovely environment. Once we returned to Ålgården, I was determined to get up into the forest and try and rediscover the feel of being there. I’d been staring so long at all of my photographs that I felt divorced from the atmosphere that you can only feel when you are actually in a place. The six mile hike was very wet but it was so peaceful there and I even managed to do one sketch in a rare break from the rain. I also stopped to listen to the birds and was totally amazed to see the tree that I was stood next to come to life. There were countless small birds flitting about in it. Blue tits, great tits and the best of all, a goldcrest! It came right up to me and put its head on one side looking. I tried not to breath in case I scared it away.

It was a bit of a slow plod back home and despite the lovely time in the woods, I found myself feeling despondent and having a crisis of confidence in what I am doing here. I felt that everything I did was not very good and that I was almost half way through my residency and what had I achieved? Yes…I know! I can laugh about it today. The problem is that migraines can actually effect your whole well-being including your emotions and depression is often a side effect of an attack. I’ve battled with them for years and am happy to say that they are less frequent and less severe than they were due to my healthier and happier lifestyle but when I get them…I sometimes lose all sense of reality.

So, Sunday I woke in the night feeling really sick and ill and had to reach for more tablets. Fortunately the morning brought a reprieve and by lunchtime I was feeling perkier. I had lunch with Christina and Lennart and the always cheery Kristina popped in and out. I spent a few hours holed up in my room sketching a ideas and then I headed out for a long run (slow and steady and with my camera) and explored some new territory.

I made it to Fjällsjön lake first.

It was very wet underfoot and many of the paths were small streams. The forest is full of fungi and there were little wooden houses dotted about in some areas. Very Hansel and Gretel! I got to another swimming lake, Kyperedssjön, which looks lovely except the water is soooo black. It’s a bit spooky! Besides which, I was already cold and wet and there was nobody about so I chickened out of jumping in.

The run was just what I needed to put everything back into perspective and to shake off the last remnants of my migraine. I got back feeling refreshed and positive again. I’m actually sat in the studio surrounded by the detritus of plate making 🙂 I talked to Lennart about creativity today and we discussed how you can’t force things, you have to let them unfold and reveal themselves to you naturally and you don’t know when or where that will be, you just have to have faith that it will happen! He told me that I must be gentle with myself. I wish I could remember precisely how he said it but it made a lot of sense. I’ve remembered why I’m here and what it is all about. I have a sketchbook full of drawings, monoprints and even a fully formed collagraph. There is a wealth of inspiration there and the seeds of a lot of imagery. I’m going to relax and enjoy myself again. After all, I’ve got over two weeks left!

First Collagraph at Ålgården

It’s been a good couple of days in the studio here at Ålgården. Yesterday I printed my test plates. I’m not mightily impressed with acrylic gloss varnish and will be sticking to button polish although some of the problems could have been due to too much pressure on the electric press. It is quite hard to tell if you have it right due to the fact that you don’t wind the bed through by hand so can’t feel when the plate is going under the rollers. Anyway, the tests proved that acrylic heavy modelling medium is best for holding texture. The car filler was great too but I am reluctant to use that due to the chemicals in it and it smells awful. It would feel wrong making a print of a beautiful forest using toxic materials! I then made a small printing plate based on one of my drawings of the birch forest. I used gesso, heavy modelling paste, pva and cutting. One of the artists, Björn Eriksson, gave me some shellac to seal the plate with and I applied two coats to it. I then spent the rest of the afternoon doing small watercolours of individual birch leaves in my sketchbook. I love the patterns that appear on them as they decay.

This morning I inked and wiped the collagraph plate and proofed it. The first print was too dark but gave me a good guide for subsequent prints. Here is the plate inked and partially wiped:

This is the monochrome version using sepia ink.

I then printed a version using yellow and black ink.

It will need a bit of tweeking and I’ve spotted an area that I have forgotten to finish cutting but I’m happy with it as a starting point.

I then spent the afternoon at the Abecita Konst Museum http://www.abecitakonst.se/. It is a fabulous gallery set on three floors of the Abecita corset factory! It houses a collection of photographs and contemporary prints as well as a small exhibition on Abecita corsets and the Nordic Textile Award exhibition. I particularly liked ‘Silent Landscape’ the exhibition of photographs by Jan Töve. There were some great prints too (including by David Hockney, Robert Rauschenburg, Julian Opie, Andy Warhol, Louise Borgeois & Richard Hamilton) and it was lovely to see a very large collagraph by Jim Dine, ‘Red Robe’. Entry to the museum entitles you to free coffee and they have very inexpensive cakes, it would have been rude not to partake!

Yesterday evening I discovered a great new forest trail on my run. You have to climb a steep hill on a tiny path and then you can follow a pine needle strewn track along the ridge. I decided to head back up there this evening and took my camera. I quite like this birch trunk catching the evening sun.

The highlight of the run was a fleeting glimpse of a roe deer as it leapt across the path in front of me. I spent some time collecting birch leaves and did a few monotypes using them in the studio this evening. I definitely feel like I am making the most of my time here!

In the Studio

After my late night monotype session, I was going to have a lie-in but I got woken up by the dustmen so I went for an early run in the rain and discovered a great new little trail winding up a very steep part of the reserve to a viewing point. This morning the pine forest was swathed in mist and it looked wonderful. This set me up nicely for a day in the studio. I’m feeling far more at home there now and had another bash at my big monotype of a pine forest. I’m still not happy with the results but here it is:

I then had a good rummage around to see what materials there are for making collagraph plates. It doesn’t help that a lot of the pots have Swedish labels and my phrase book is proving worse than useless for life as a printmaker in Sweden! I resorted to shaking, sniffing and poking with a brush 🙂 I selected a few things that looked promising and decided to make some test plates. I found some filler for car repairs and I’ve heard people say that’s really good so I’m giving that a go although it smells awful and will probably need to be used outside if I am to preserve my braincells! I also found some acrylic mediums and I sealed all the plates using gloss acrylic varnish. I usually use shellac in the form of button polish but if the varnish works, it could prove useful for teaching purposes.

Then I decided to use some of the gesso that I’ve brought with me and make a small collagraph plate of a birch forest. I’m still working on it and hope to finish it tomorrow. On Sunday, one of the visitors to the gallery was a woman called Alison who comes from Manchester but has been living here for twenty years. When she found out I was in residence she asked if I’d like to meet her for a coffee so she could show me around a bit. We met today and she took me to her lovely summer house on the lake. She’d bought some traditional ginger spiced biscuits and cinnamon pastries to have with our coffee, I warmed to her instantly! She is interested in birds and told me that there are ospreys at the lake and capercaillie in the woods. She also has roe deer sleeping in her garden at night. Yesterday, Christina told me that elk live in the area and that last autumn one came into town and was in her mum’s garden! I’d love to see one. Alison has very kindly lent me a decent Swedish/English dictionary so I can now look up words like glue, plaster, varnish etc.

back to the subject of birds, there was a fieldfare pecking at the apples in the garden this morning.