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.

Turning Corners!

It’s been a few days since I wrote my blog. This has mainly been because I’ve been really busy and every evening I think I’ll sit down and write a post but by the time I’ve cleared up in the studio, it is usually almost midnight and I’ve been too tired. Anyway, enough of the excuses! Last weekend was Open Studios in Borås and Ålgården hosted an exhibition in the gallery with one piece of work from every artist taking part. The preparations for this took the best part of three days running up to the weekend and the studios were a hive of activity. The event opened with a ‘vernissage’ (or preview as we call them in England) with lots of artists and art lovers gathered together round flaming braziers for a bit of hobnobbing whilst inside the gallery a rather avant garde band called The Soil Collectors played.

One of the artists from Ålgården had decided to hold his open studio in the intaglio studio so it became out of bounds for the best part of three days. What with that and the fact that the place was buzzing all weekend, work was out of the question and I decided that I would take myself off to Gothenburg for the day. Easier said than done as it took me an hour of walking in the torrential rain to find the train station. I then bought my ticket from a machine and waited on an empty platform until five minutes before departure when I got suspicious about the lack of other travellers. I asked a man (who was going through some bins!) where the train was. He pointed to the bus station and it turned out I’d bought a bus ticket. Luckily I found the bus and managed to get on it just before it departed! Arrival in Gothenburg was a big relief because for a start…it was not raining! I spent a lovely day wandering around the Art Museum and Hasselblad Centre where my favourite things were a really interesting photographic exhibition about racism by Sasha Huber http://www.sashahuber.com/ and a great ceramic show by Klara Kristalova http://www.kristalova.se/ I did a quick tour through the various periods of Scandinavian art (nice to see some of Carl Larsson’s in the flesh) and had a longer look at the contemporary paintings and sculpture. I also visited Grafik i Väst http://ramverk.se/giv/ which is a gallery and organisation of 259 printmakers. I managed to catch the opening of the Palle Nielsen exhibition and picked up a few of their annual catalogues. It has been really interesting to see the work of so many Scandinavian printmakers over the last few weeks.

After another exhibition opening of an Ålgården member, Maurits Ylitalo, I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round the very interesting and hip Haga district.

I finished my day with an hour sat on the harbour wall soaking up the sun (I’d almost forgotten what it looks like!) and watching the ferries come and go.

Sunday was spent visiting Sirgitta’s studio, running and generally keeping busy until I could get back to work. I’ve decided to continue to spend at least some time in the forest every day whatever the weather. I want to really get the atmosphere under my skin and build up a vast archive of photographic images (and some drawings) so that I have lots to work from when I get back home. I’ve had some really wet and fun runs in almost darkness with owls hooting and only the reflected dying light in puddles to guide my way!

In the studio, for the last couple days I’ve mainly been wrestling with carborundum! I’m happy that I’ve made a good start on depicting the birch forests and I am confident that I can explore that further when I get home but the pine forests have been eluding me! They are so dark and atmospheric that I thought carborundum grit would be a good medium to use. I’ve had some success with it in the past and it is possible to get an almost mezzotint-like feel to the prints. Unfortunately, I haven’t had access to my usual materials and so have been experimenting with new kinds of card base plates, different kinds of glue and there has been no foam roller to apply the glue evenly. It’s all part of the spirit of the residency. I’m here to experiment and try new things but it has meant that results have been rather frustrating. After having spent the last two days making plates, proofing, remaking plates, reproofing, still the results are awful and I’m calling time on it for now. I will go back to it when I am back in the UK. There is no point trying to reinvent the wheel when I know I can get the results I want using the materials I have at home. Hey ho!

I did manage to get a reasonable print from a collagraph plate that I made last week. It is intended to give something of the feeling that I get when I stop and listen to the birds in the forest. I’ve realised that if I stand really still, the birds start flitting about around me and soon there can be over twenty tiny chattering blue, great and willow tits as well as finches and often a couple of gold crests. It really is quite magical. The print is just a proof and I will work on the idea further when I get back but I think it has potential.

I will end this post here and come back tomorrow with an update on some possible developments with photopolymer. It is a material that I use already but I have taught myself the basics from a book and have never known how to use it to its full potential. This could be a bit of a break through for me and I’m really excited!

Tall!

It’s been a good couple of days for a few reasons. The first being that we must have had at least 15 minutes of sunshine today 😉 I’m so grateful that for my first days in Borås we had lovely weather and I was able to get out and sketch a lot. I’ve been out drawing since but it has been a damp experience and I invariably get a wet backside from all the beautiful but very soggy moss. The smaller paths are now little rivers.

Yesterday I got up very early to go and visit a 700 year old pine tree with Lennart. It was quite a long way away (thus the early start) but the forest nearby made the trip doubly worthwhile.

After spending some time getting to know the lovely old tree, we then crossed the busy road and had a walk in an ancient forest full of 300 year old pines and 200 year old spruce trees. The forest was dripping with water and we were wading through some deep puddles but it was eerily quiet and still despite the sea of traffic noise from the road behind us and the lichens hanging from the trees were amazing.

On returning to Ålgården, we had some lunch and then I tried to do some artwork. Unfortunately, the studios are really busy at the moment due to the impending open studios exhibition and I find the constant coming and going distracting. I talked to Christina about it today and she feels the same. She’s preparing for an exhibition and trying to make some new work but has been frustrated that she can’t get absorbed into what she is doing. I combatted the feeling today by holing up in my bedroom and working on a drypoint at the desk listening to the radio. It was lovely and I got a lot done. I often go to the studio in the evenings and work late as it is so peaceful. The residency has been really interesting for many reasons and one is that it has given me insights into what conditions I need for working and about the nature of creativity. I’ve found my way of dealing with times when I feel restless and frustrated. Getting out for a walk or run in the forest brings everything back into focus and I come back feeling full of creative energy and ideas. I then need peace and solitude to work out designs but once they are done, I can enjoy making plates and printing in company. When I look back to college days, I spent my most productive times at home between 8pm & 2am and got far less done in the studio between 9am and 6pm and nowadays in England I am always alone so I don’t really have the same dilemma. However, the downside of working alone all the time is that you don’t have the creative input of other people, you aren’t able to bounce ideas about or be inspired by other artists’ work and it can get quite lonely in the winter. At home I am quite fortunate in that I have good friends to ring or visit, many of whom are artists too, and the internet has been a real asset for all of us that that work alone but need a bit of contact now and again! I do wish there was somewhere like Ålgården in North Yorkshire, it would be really fantastic!

For my last week or so here, I intend to make the most of the facilities and print but I also want to soak up as much of the creative spirit here as I can, exchange thoughts and ideas with the other artists whenever possible and really get the atmosphere of the forests under my skin. I hope I can then draw on it all when I am back at home.

The drypoint that I’ve just printed is inspired by one of the old pine trees in the forest. It is made using drypoint plastic and a single drypoint tool. The first print was too pale. This one still needs some adjustments but the beauty of drypoint is that you don’t need to seal the plates and you can proof it and then make changes if you need to.

The word for this kind of tree (it’s a Scot Pine) in Swedish is Tall! How brilliant is that?

As a footnote, I had my first Swedish ‘conversation’ today. I went for a run and stopped to watch a pair of goldcrests. I was stood peering intently up a pine tree when two men came past with their dogs. They said hello and something indecipherable to me and I said ‘Hej…fagel…kungfagel’ to which they both said ‘ahh’ nodded and one made a gesture with his thumb and forefinger to indicate something very small. I was so pleased that I quickly said ‘Hej da’ and ran away before they said anything else that I couldn’t understand. 🙂 So, I now need to see a dormouse or a bear because I know the words for those!

Björk

Well, I’m really pleased that I wrote about my up and down weekend. The response here and on my facebook page has shown that so many artists (and also non-artists) empathised and it has created some worthwhile discussion. Thanks for all the support too. I think it is really important to share the difficult times as well as the good. I also think that it can sometimes be the times when everything seems to be going wrong or hard that actually end up being the most useful and are often turning points.

Anyway, yesterday I stayed all day in the studio and carefully constructed a simple collagraph plate that I hoped would capture more of the atmosphere of the birch forests here.

I worked on it until lunchtime and then had a break to eat with Björn and Kristina before helping take down the Artists in Residency Exhibition from the gallery. Afterwards, Björn made carrot and apple juice for us. Apparently carrots have been unbelievably expensive all year due to the weather making it difficult to grow them. Now they are really cheap so he bought a huge bag for juicing. It was delicious and, after all the coffee that I’ve been drinking, it felt very refreshing and healthy! After he, Christina and Kristina went home I went back to the studio and worked until midnight! The studio was buzzing with activity from the women’s Monday night printmaking group but because I don’t understand any Swedish, I was in a world of my own and the chatter was like background music. I sealed the plate with shellac before I went to bed.

This morning I got up early to go for a run and I put a final coat of shellac on my plate before I went. The forest was misty and very atmospheric and I met a group of woodsmen who stopped to talk to me (in perfect English of course!). I got back to the studio and set to proofing the collagraph.

The sepia is a bit heavy for the subject and I’d always envisaged it in colour so I carefully printed a further three prints using the ‘a la poupee’ method. This print has lost a little of its subtlety in the photographing but I’m quite happy with it in ‘the flesh’.

I’ve got a lot of other ideas and I still have a plate to print that I made over the weekend so things are definitely feeling better.

Two more nice things happened today. The first was that Lennart bought me a box of organic vegetables and bread for my lunch and I was able to make us a winter stew from carrots, leeks, parsnips & swedes with potato patties on the side. The second was that Tim and Diane Wayne from The Alverton Gallery http://www.thealvertongallery.co.uk/ in Penzance called in to see me! My mum lives in Penzance and, as a result, Tim and Diane kindly agreed to stock my prints (it is so hard to get into galleries in Cornwall because there are so many Cornish artists and many galleries only stock work by local artists). I only see Tim and Diane maybe once a year but they just happened to be on holiday in Sweden and they are both printmakers themselves so they couldn’t resist a visit to Ålgården. It was lovely to see them and I was pleased to be able to show them around and introduce them to the Swedish artists here.

Oh yes, and as for the title of today’s post, it is Swedish for silver birch! I also found out that Björn is Swedish for bear. 🙂

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!

Out and About

Today I have felt utterly spoilt in that I was taken out for the day by artist, Lennart Sundqvist. He spotted that I liked birds and offered to show me a place which is famous for its migrant species. Along the way we stopped to visit his home in his own forest, to see his garden and to meet his cats. A very peaceful and inspiring place. I mentioned that I had really enjoyed the Jan Töve’s exhibition at the Abecita Konst Museum and it turned out that he was a good friend of his and lived in the area. We called in to see him but he was just going out and asked if we would drop by later.

On our way to the bird reserve, Lennart took me to a beautiful old railway station where they still have a traditional restaurant offering a smörgåsbord. Thursday’s menu was heavy on the meat but I was still able to taste many different salads and potato dishes. Sweet pancakes were on offer too but we had places to go and people to see so we stuck to the coffee and biscuits.

Our next stop was the ancient burial site at Ekornavallen. People have been gathering there to bury their dead since the bronze age.

There is a traditional old farm nearby and many of the modern timber houses have the same structure and shape.

We were just getting into the car when a flight of birds flew over. They were quite beautiful and I assumed that they were geese. It is only now, on closer inspection, that I have realised that they are a flock of the famous cranes that we tried but failed to see when we finally got to the lake!

The lake is called Hornborgasjön and the cranes arrive in their tens of thousands each spring to breed. Hundreds of people come to watch them ‘dance’ at the lake. It was a beautiful place but rather windy and cold and many of the birds were far out on the lake today. We did use a telescope and binoculars and were able to watch some of the geese and ducks though.

After returning to the car, Lennart asked if I’d like to visit his friend Inga and see the beautiful garden that she has made. It was quite an amazing place that she and her husband created from scratch and featured many specimen trees and plants, wonderful rockeries using the local stone and water features . Whilst we were looking around, a vast assortment of small birds were coming and going and a brown squirrel chattered noisily at us.

Our last port of call was to Jan and this time he was ready for us with a warm welcome and biscuits! He and his wife made us feel totally at home and besides showing me his home, studio and some of his photographs, they also showed me which mushrooms are safe to pick and eat, their gorgeous dog and they took us down to the stables to meet their daughter and her horse. Jan was well known as a wildlife and nature photographer for many years and now he is taking time to explore further his ideas on nature, humankind and society and the interactions between them. Do follow the link and take a look http://www.jantove.com/ For me, some of his photographs have the same beauty and simplicity that you find in the best haiku poetry.

So, a complete rest today and a big thank you to Lennart for his kindness and conversation. Tomorrow I will be back in the studio and no doubt up in the forest at some point!

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.