Connections North: Mirror Images (Part 1)

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Better late than never, I am writing this as Mirror Images moves to its final location at the Caithness Horizons Gallery in Thurso, Scotland. It will be on show there from 16th October to 28th November 2015.

Last summer applications were invited from printmakers based in North Yorkshire to take part in Chrysalis Arts ‘Connections North:Mirror Images’ project. This is an international printmaking project featuring the work of 40 artists from 4 countries, England (N.Yorks), Scotland, Sweden and Finland. It is a development of the connections already made between Chrysalis Arts, Ålgården Workshop in Sweden, Ratamo Printmaking and Photography Centre in Finland and Highland Print Studio in Inverness, Scotland. Artists specialising in or with a strong interest in printmaking were invited to apply to create two works each on the theme of ‘Place and Identity’. The idea was that the printmakers would create an edition with a minimum of 4 prints which would then be shown simultaneously in England, Sweden and Finland.

I was already a member of the working party that met regularly to discuss the logistics of the project and provide opinion and ideas to Chrysalis Arts but this was no guarantee of a place in the final exhibition as that was to be judged by three external selectors. These were Deborah Fahmy (Visual Arts Officer of Arts Council England), Sally Smith (Curator of the Inspired by gallery) and Martyn Lucas (a print specialist and curator). I was totally certain that I wouldn’t get selected, I’d had a previous disappointment with an application when my prints were judged to not have enough of a ‘contemporary feel with particular regards to subject matter’ and two of the selectors were from that panel! It had given me a well needed ‘kick up the backside’ to really consider how I present myself and my work and with that in mind, I sought advice about my cv, rewrote my statement and carefully selected the prints that I felt illustrated my desire to push myself and that showed best my technical ability. I was walking through Ripon checking my emails on my phone when the judgement came and, typically, the text of the letter didn’t download for ages! I really couldn’t believe that I’d been selected out of the 43 artists to apply.

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I designed my two prints whilst I was at Ålgården in February of this year. I spent two weeks creating numerous test plates and tinkering with ideas and compositions. It had been snowy when I left Yorkshire and I arrived in Sweden to find thick snow and iced over lakes which suited me perfectly. I worked with idea of the contrast between the ephemeral and the enduring as the land changed daily between thaws and snowfall.

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The relief and intaglio studio.

I explored themes of pathways, tracks, trods & traces which directly relates to my fellrunning but also to the landscape where I live which is essentially a playground for all adventure lovers, cyclists, walkers, runners, cavers & even the occasional paraglider. It’s also a region of quarrying & sheep farming.

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Ideas for a layered print about Penyghent and my fellrunning. It includes a garmin trace of the speed and ascent of an actual run that I did.

I managed to get one of my prints proofed whilst in Borås but the plates for the other print were still in the making stage.

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Collagraph plate varnished with seven layers of shellac to allow for drypoint techniques.

To cut a long story short, I worked on both prints for over a month and eventually was ready to proof them just before the delivery deadline (no different to my normal working methods then!). Here they are:

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Tracks and Traces, 6 plate collagraph print, 230x475mm

Hester Cox Enclosures

Enclosures, 4 plate collagraph print, 294x417mm

In the next post I will talk briefly about the project as a whole and some of the workshops and talks that took place as well as post some photos of the exhibition.

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.

New Ground: Part 1

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This is the first of a few blog posts detailing the main project that I’ve been working on this year.

Just over a year ago I was approached by Sally Smith at Inspired By…Gallery to see if I would be interested in having an exhibition in Gallery 2 this autumn. Coincidentally I had already been thinking about approaching her with a proposal so this was a great opportunity for me. The space is a lovely clean white room with lots of light and there were plinths available for 3D work so I suggested that I invite another artist to exhibit with me and was fortunate that ceramicist Charlotte Morrison was keen to do it. She had already developed a range of work that explored ancient pathways in the Yorkshire Dales and wanted to push that work further by exploring the old drove roads, monks’ trods and other pathways within the North York Moors National Park.

I am a keen fellrunner and first became familiar with some of the beautiful paths and trails within the North York Moors National Park when I started competing in the Esk Valley Fell Club fell race series. Inspired by the natural history and landscape, I started to explore the area further and soon developed my own favourite running routes.

A large proportion of the prints on display were created during 2014 in response to a calender year spent repeatedly revisiting some of my favourite routes in the Hambleton area. In this way, I was able to observe the seasonal changes that took place and experience the landscape in all weathers. Making notes, taking photos and doing occasional sketches on site, I returned to mystudio to further develop the ideas that came  to me whilst I was running or walking. I was fortunate to observe some of the birds and animals that also visited the area such as hares in the fields near Cleaves Wood, roe deer at Gormire Rigg, the jackdaws that roost in Whitestonecliff, the housemartens that nest at Rouston Scar, a yellowhammer on the edge of the gallops above Gormire and many more.

Gormire Lake has become a favourite place both for running and quiet contemplation. A site that is unique, characterful and full of atmosphere, at times sunny and serene whilst in fog or at night it can seem ethereal and haunting.

PicMonkey Collage1The lake is deep and one of the few natural lakes in Yorkshire. The first time I visited it I disturbed a roe deer that skidaddled into the woods and there were buzzards crying above the tree canopy. I also found a roe deer skeleton amongst the leaf litter near the ‘elephant tree’. It is often muddy underfoot and the smell of the earth and leaf litter is strong.

PicMonkey CollageIn early summer the woodland is carpeted with bluebells. I particularly love the circular route from Sutton Under Whitestonecliff which takes you to Gormire lake, up onto Sutton Bank, along the top trail by the glider club and down beneath the White horse, through the birch woods to the pine plantation and up to Hood Hill. From there I like to take one of a few routes back to Gormire but all mean going up the steep bank again and descending back to the lake so its great fell training.

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Throughout the year I worked with photographer Paul Harris who has made a film about my working process and the first edit can be viewed at the exhibition. When the final version is available, I will post it to my blog for you to see.

In my next post I will talk a bit more about how I created the work on show and the journey from ideas in the studio to framed pieces in the gallery.

 

 

 

All Change!

The last time I wrote I was in Sweden which now seems like years ago! My main reason for not writing is that I’ve had a hugely busy year which was largely disrupted (in a good way!) by moving house and studio. After a few years of a travelling between Settle and Masham each weekend, my partner and I took the plunge and bought a house together in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. He moved in at Easter and I spent a month making the transition from my little rented cottage in Masham to our equally lovely new place. As a fellrunner this move is exciting (Horton is the starting point for the Yorkshire Three Peaks race and is surrounded by gorgeous fells) but as an artist, the fact that the house has a studio at the bottom of the garden and I can finally ‘go out to work’, it is even more so! I’m very attached to Masham, the place, the community and my friends there but I’ll be maintaining strong links with the Masham Gallery, who have championed my printmaking for 18 years, and ArtisOn Ltd who have been employing me to deliver printmaking workshops for the last three years. We’re already working on next year’s programme!

The move was pretty stressful and labour intensive mainly because I had various exhibition commitments that required me to be able to work right up to the last minute but looking back on it, it went surprisingly smoothly and I’m now settled in to my new studio and making lots of work. I’ve also got Harry the collie as a companion in the daytime!

Here are a few pictures that tell the story:

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My Masham studio before I packed up…

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and looking rather forlorn after I’d packed and been around with the filler and paint!

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My lovely new workplace down the end of the garden

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Before I turned it into a print studio…

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and afterwards. I’ve since put up some prints and it gets cosier and more ‘arty’ every week. I’ve been talking to an electrician about getting a proper mains electricity supply to it (it is just on extension cables at the moment) and soon I’ll be able to plug things in and flick a switch for my daylight strip to come on so that I can work throughout winter. I’ll be making some heat shields so that I can use the stove and also putting in a small heater that will work on a thermostat so that it never goes below freezing (we’re quite high up here and snow is a regular occurrence in the winter).

I really enjoy working in there and am finding ways to make efficient use of the space. In my old house I used to stretch my prints on the back of the kitchen and pantry doors but now I have a selection of boards that I store in my plan chest for that purpose. I’m also adapting the paper soaking system that I used in Sweden as I am no longer able to soak my paper in the bath tub and transport it safely to the studio. I’ve found that I can spray the paper outside (or in the greenhouse in bad weather) and then stack it in polythene to keep it damp so that I have a supply on hand that just needs blotting when I’m ready to print.

After years of living on my own I’ve realised that I’m a bit of a workaholic but also a great procrastinator so I ended up making jobs last longer than I needed to, never really switching off unless I was out of the house and I regularly worked into the small hours. Now I am making far better use of my time and am limiting my evening and weekend work so that I at least have an hour or so to relax most days (although, artists never switch off, I’m always mulling over ideas!).

We live down a little lane that leads to fields and the Ribble so I can swim in the river and run in the hills straight from my house. The countryside is really wonderful and there are so many different species of bird. It is a constant source of inspiration. I love having a studio that is separate from the house and when I head down to it, it feels like I really mean business. I’m also enjoying the cups of tea that get brought out to me in the evening and have learned to ignore Harry barking at the logpile for me to throw sticks. He’s learning to get used to me disappearing out there and I’m getting used to rescuing his ball from the drain or pond so that he can carry on playing by himself until it is time for us to go out together. He still drops the occasional ball at my feet when I’m printing though 🙂

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Last Evening at Ålgården

It the final evening of my stay at Ålgården and it has been a really good three weeks. I’m just trying to work out the logistics of getting all of my prints, printing plates and associated materials into my case so that I don’t get charged excess baggage! Fortunately I was working on relatively small-scale work and the very large birch tree was just a proof so I’ve torn the margins off so that I can keep it for reference. It does make me wonder how I’ll manage when I next come because I’d like to do some large-scale pieces here some time but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it!

The final tally of works made is 7 new photopolymer prints (roughly 21x21cm each) and 2 small ones (although I’m hoping to get another made tonight) plus a large collagraph/drypoint, 3 x monotypes and a large collagrah designed and drawn up ready to cut. Pretty productive I reckon 🙂 I’ve also found time to run every day, go to Gothenburg for some exhibitions and have a couple trips out with my Swedish friends here. They have included a concert, an exhibition opening, trips to meet other artists in their studios, lunches at friends’ houses, a visit to Rydal Textile Museum and plenty of time in the woods.This weekend it was the opening of Bengt Johansson’s exhibition and he and his wife came to stay for a few days which was good fun. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself and feel very at home here.

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(Bengt at his preview)

I feel like I’ve managed to make headway with the work that I began in 2012 and the photopolymer prints have given me a strand to my printmaking that fulfils something I feel has been missing. For a few years I have wanted to depict some of the atmosphere of the landscape in different weather conditions and have found it exceptionally hard to do with my collagraphs. By using my monotype techniques, plus some latent painting skills, I’ve been able to begin to depict some ideas that I’ve had for ages. Here is one of a pine forest:

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I have ideas from almost ten years ago which I’ve attempted to recreate in print but that haven’t worked and now I can see a way to make them happen. I will be digging out some old sketchbooks when I get back.

It has been very damp underfoot in the forests here (and at home!) and I’ve been seeing the most wonderful reflections of trees in the puddles. The land is quite marshy in places too. My last few photopolymers were inspired by this. I started with one design and then decided to create three on the same theme. Here is a photo of the triptych of transparencies as I was creating them. The two on the wall are drying.

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On Friday evening I was just heading to bed and I checked them to see if they were dry and they were. I felt compelled to get on and develop them and so I stayed up until 1.30am and made the plates. I then noticed that some of the drying prints of the photopolymer birch forest design were buckling so I decided to resoak them…big mistake! I hadn’t realised that the inks were water soluble because I couldn’t read the Swedish on the tins. I walked off to do something and when I came back to them, the prints were a vivid mess of running orange ink! It was pretty disheartening as they were the two that I was the most pleased with but these things happen and I’ll be reproofing in the UK with my inks so it doesn’t matter too much. Here is the pile of prints that didn’t make the grade!

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Anyway, lessons learned and the good news was that the sun was shining brightly the following day and the photopolymer plates were curing nicely in the studio windows all ready for me to proof on Saturday.

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I love the rich contrast that you can get with this kind of printmaking and making the transparencies is very satisfying. I roll the ink on to the acetate and then create the image by wiping it away and it feels like painting the light back into the image. Right, I really do want to get a third indian ink transparency made and developed on a plate so that I have a North York Moors triptych for my project so I’ll sign off for tonight but, whilst I’m sorry to be leaving, I’m feeling pretty positive about my printmaking and I’ll be coming back here again soon.

 

Photopolymer Experiments continued…

Well, it has been such a good week here at Ålgården. I’m feeling very happy and creative despite fatigue setting in from late nights working and morning runs. There is so much to say but I’m going to stick to photopolymer updates in this post. Last time I wrote I had been practising my reduction monotypes on paper and then I went on to do one onto acetate to act as a transparency for a photopolymer plate.

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It was something of a labour of love to get it finished and by the time that I did, the ink was beginning to dry but it still took the weekend for it to be totally dry enough for exposure on the plate. On Monday morning Kristina Thun talked me through the various steps again because I was slightly unsure of the settings for the exposure unit and then I went about exposing the plate and developing it in water. It was very exciting to see the image appearing as I gently brushed it in the water tray.

I was impatient to print it but didn’t want to spoil the plate by rushing so I forced myself to work on one of my collagraphs whilst the photopolymer hardened in the light from the window.

My first proof was done using black charbonnel etching ink on Hahnmule paper and it worked fine although the result is darker than the final image will be because I have designed it to be printed in a soft ‘foggy’ grey.

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Since I proofed this print, I have spent another day working on a further acetate with the intention of this one being printed using graduated colours.

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I’ve been cutting my 30x40cm photopolymer plate up to create two plates that are 20.5 x 20.5cm and have been left with a longish strip of plate. Photopolymer is expensive stuff and I’m not letting any go to waste so I’ve divided the strip into four squares and am making little experiments using my textured acetates that I made in the lithography studio and tusch, Indian ink and other materials. I’ll try and do as many as I can so that I learn lots about the process and what results you can get whilst I have access to the equipment.

In between times I am working on two large collagraphs. Today I spent a good part of the day developing the second acetate and one of my experiments which is actually inspired by a view towards Hood Hill in North Yorkshire. I had a great printing session and proofed everything in black before mixing some colours up. That was quite a challenge as my Swedish is non-existant and there were many tins of ink so I had to look inside nearly all of them in order to find out what was on offer. I managed to mix a soft grey and a nice graduated ochre/umber.

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I think that this will look better when printed on to a whiter paper but I’m pretty pleased with the result so far.

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And here is the little sample using Indian ink.

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My plan now is to make another 20.5 x 20.5cm acetate tomorrow and whilst that is drying, I’ll finish one of my collagraphs and carry on with the little experiments. I’m buzzing with ideas and am having to be strict with myself and sit down and work through them methodically or I am in danger of becoming a grasshopper and jumping about all over the place. I’m working in a totally different way to how I work at home. I normally work on one plate until it is finished, only breaking off to print up editions of existing prints if needed. Here I am working on four or five ideas and three different methods of printmaking at the same time. It feels great!

Seeing the Wood for the Trees

So far things have been ticking along very nicely at Ålgården. It is good to immediately feel at home this time around and I am very pleased to have been given my own key and have my membership confirmed. I’ve developed a nice routine of getting up early(ish), having breakfast and then heading into the woods for a run. This sets me up nicely for working in the studio all day and into the evening. It is an opportunity to clear my head and focus on what I want to achieve each day and also helps me feel inspired. On Thursday we had snow and so I lengthened my route a bit to get up high on the crags where it was thicker.

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I was really pleased to see a hare in the path ahead of me and was able to watch it for a while before I disturbed it and I also saw fox tracks. Today I saw a pair of roe deer bouncing across the path and into the forest, they stopped to have a look at me!

Anyway, back to printmaking! One of my main goals is to try and develop my photopolymer printmaking. On the final days of my residency in 2012, I explored making transparencies using my monotypes and left feeling excited about some of the results. I love collagraph printmaking, it is my preferred method of working, but sometimes I want to convey atmosphere in my prints that I can’t seem to do in collagraph. I want some of the mark-making and softness that I can create with monotype but I’d also like to be able to create editions and have the freedom to play with the image without it being a one-off. For my North York Moors prints, I have been really inspired by a foggy run around Gormire but how do you create the ghostly ethereal atmosphere in a printing plate?048

I’m not interested in making plates from my photographs because my printmaking is about how I interpret the world around me and my response to it and I prefer to design my images and simplify my ideas constructing a print that illustrates how I feel/think about my subject. I want people to look at a print and have an emotional response to it as opposed to a more detached aesthetic appreciation. My aim is to inspire a sense of recognition in the viewer. I find it so difficult to explain what I am trying to do with my printmaking because I often just work from my instincts and a drive to explore an idea or make something that I’ve seen fleetingly into a lasting image. I don’t tend to analyse my work which is why I find it so interesting to talk to people about their interpretation of what I do. This year it is one of my goals to give myself time to think about what I want to achieve with my work and what I’m trying to say.

I wrote all about photopolymer in a previous post (Adventures in Photopolymer) and so I won’t go into it in detail here but I’ve spent the last few days making reduction monotypes on paper in order to organise my ideas and work out the logistics of how to create a monotype transparency for making my photopolymer plate.

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(two of my monoprints)

I also did a sneaky drypoint of the birches in snow on Thursday as I was a bit overexcited about the weather 😀 I then spent all day yesterday working on a piece of acetate creating a positive for developing onto a photopolymer plate on Monday. I started by rolling up the acetate in a very fine layer of black ink and then I dabbed that all over with a ball of tissue paper to soften and lighten it. I then removed ink using cotton buds, homemade implements such as a pencil with a bit of kitchen towel wrapped and taped to it to create a pointy wiping thing for fine detail and a variety of brushes. It was a painstaking process and I had to be very careful not to drop bits on it or get fingermarks in the ink. Every mark I made will hopefully be reproduced on the plate.

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The ink is oil-based so it stayed workable all day although as midnight approached, it was become decidedly sticky! I also painted onto the plate to get darker areas in the foreground but I blotted them with my home-made ‘dolly’ to give them some texture. This is the first time in ages that I’ve done anything that has been so close to painting. It will be very interesting to see how it comes out. I’ve got to wait for the transparency to be totally dry before I develop it because I don’t want it to stick to the plate. This meant careful transportation from the studio to my room so that it would be safe from today’s life drawing class.

So, today was life drawing and I spent two hours discovering just how rusty my life drawing skills are. By the end I was just beginning to get whole drawings done during the allotted 5, 4 & 2 minute poses. It’s good discipline and really forces you to make quick decisions and to think about your drawing as a whole. Definitely something I should make the effort to do more often. Right, I’m off to the studio to do some work on a large collagraph that I brought from home. It is of a birch wood (surprise, surprise) with deer inspired by a forest that I saw near Gormire (where I also saw deer). It will be a slow process cutting and painting all the textures into the plate so I’ll have it on stand-by for when I am waiting during various stages of the photopolymer plate-making process or for when the studio is busy and I can’t concentrate very well.