Loose Ends and Exciting Beginnings!

So…I’m going to be regularly using my blog again for an exciting new project but before I start that, I just wanted to tie up a few loose ends regarding ‘Within These Walls’. Since I last wrote, I have been commissioned to recreate the central collagraph print for a hospital in Sweden. It is undergoing major building work and there is a pillar in the main reception area that they would like to hang my work from so I spent October/November of last year reprinting it! No small order as it required a few trips to Northern Print to use their lovely big electric intaglio press and then I had to line it and sew it.

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The pillar is grey so my contact, Torbjörn, suggested that it it might be better if the material was more opaque. Unfortunately, I used the transparency of the lovely cotton voile so that I could see through to register the plates each time so it looked like lining it would be the best option. That ended up being quite a mammoth task but I used an iron-on cotton interfacing which worked well as it provided a bit of stability too. It was a bit of a nightmare to attach but I was able to hire the village hall again and lay the work out. I was methodical and careful and I also put a few eyelets down the sides so that the work can be secured away from the wall with bolts if needed. Due to a scalpel disaster, I managed to bleed over the work at one point but luckily blood washes out with cold water…

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Then I enlisted the help of my lovely friends Sheila Smith and Lorraine Garlick and they hemmed the whole thing for me. They did the most amazing job including handstitching the pockets for the acrylic rods with invisible stitching. I have learned so much from them both and am forever grateful for their patience and enthusiasm.

Then it was a case of cutting the new acrylic rods to size, securing the screw-eyes in the ends and rolling the whole thing up in acid-free tissue ready for sending by courier to Sweden. It was a little pricey but Euro-Trans Despatch delivered it safely in less than 24 hours! As is the way of the world, building work has been delayed and the hospital isn’t finished yet so I don’t have any photos of it in situ but I promise to post some when I do.

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In summary, I was planning to develop this project but unfortunately, the next venue for it fell through, time has passed and I’ve got involved in other projects but I have been so lucky to have had two of the monotypes on paper purchased for public display in Sweden, the commission for the hospital and also my monotype, Meadowsweet, selected for the 2018/19 New Light Prize Exhibition. I’ve now just found out that the collagraph panel will be on display as part of PrintFest7Oaks in May 2019. I’m so pleased to be a part of this event. It is a print festival held in Sevenoaks founded and directed by Christina France. Christina is also a member of Ålgården Studios and this year she has planned two shows for PrintFest7Oaks. The first will be by members of Ålgården Studios and held at The Kaleidoscope Gallery and I have been invited to show the collagraph at that. I will also be giving a talk at the gallery in the evening of the 9th May to discuss my connection with Ålgården and how the installation came about. I will then have a piece of work as an invited artist for Printfest7 at Ålgården Studio Gallery in September. All exciting stuff and there will be lots of information and links on my website.

So for the next year I am going to be blogging far more regularly about a project that I’ve just begun with the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. look out for the first post on that in the coming days…

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!

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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.

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.

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!