Catching up on ‘Within These Walls’

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It’s a good seven months since I wrote following the installation of my large-scale print project, ‘Within These Walls’. I had hoped to have time to sit and write a poetical and reflective account and in hoping to do that, it never happened! 2017 was a year that was intensely busy, very rewarding but with not a lot of breathing space. Strangely, the one time I had some head space was during the Grassington Festival when I was at the installation for four hours every day and often had little gaps of time alone. During these pauses, I wrote haiku, printed, drew and generally had a very relaxing and fulfilling time. My friend, the photographer Paul Harris, visited the installation and very kindly created this rather lovely film of it. It can be viewed HERE

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The installation was a success in that I had over 335 visitors and all had positive things to say. I was humbled by just how many people reacted to the work within the space saying that it made them feel peaceful, calm & inspired. The word ‘ethereal’ was repeatedly used and many felt that the barn took on the aura of a sacred space such as a church or cathedral. One woman told me she had visited early on a few occasions so that she could have the space to herself and wander amongst the hangings. A few comments from my guestbook sum up nicely the general feeling amongst my visitors:

“really suits the space well and enjoyed the walking aspect to find the barn. Lovely combination of light and shade & movement of the wind on the hangings”

“…the soul of this wondrous dale, thank you…”

“beautiful work in a special ancient place. Hay meadows & swallows – perfect summer image”

“fab to enjoy the swallows, art and barn on the longest summer day, many thanks”

“beautiful work – perfect for this peaceful space. Images make sense of ambient sounds”

“didn’t expect this! beautiful work in a  special ancient place. Haymeadows and swallows in this wonderful old barn. Cheered up a dull day”

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I also hadn’t envisaged just how much I would enjoy being within the space. Everyday was different and the light changed throughout each afternoon. Sometimes I would watch a spot of sunlight travel across the barn floor and up the hangings, other times they would whip about in the wind and, on many occasions, the parents of a brood of swallow chicks would fly amongst them.

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Since the festival, I have had one of the paper monotypes from ‘Within These Walls’ accepted for the New Light Prize Exhibition and it is currently touring having just finished the opening show at the Bowes Museum. I’m at Ålgården in Sweden at the moment and my original plan was to work on some large-scale paper prints to act as an exhibition to show alongside the hangings but, as yet, I don’t have a definite date and space in which to show them and another deadline (my next Collections project show) is looming. Conscious of all the work I need to do over the next few months for the Hepworth Print Fair (with Printmakers Circle), Printfest, West Dean Design and Craft Fair and ‘Collections’ at Sunny Bank Mills (not to mention the fact that I’m part of a team of artists trying to get a Three Peaks Art Trail off the ground for July 2018), I’ve put the development of the work on hold….temporarily. This is a project that I feel that I could work on for quite a few years to come. I’d really like more concentrated time to forget everything else and focus purely on making a body of work related to the installation but as an artist who makes all of their living from their printmaking, that involves exhibitions, shows, art fairs, talks and workshops and so I’m constantly busy and switching between deadlines. I could either do with some development funding or I will just have to work in fits and starts – as and when I can. Either way, I know I have the determination to carry it forward so watch this space!

I also have a new website (which I built in January in between doing my tax return!) so do check it out, it has a gallery for ‘Within These Walls’: www.hestercox.com

My thanks must go to Kate Beard (director of the Grassington Festival) for making the leap of faith and including me in the festival programme; Ian Harland for letting me use his barn and for all his hard work, support and cups of coffee; Paul Harris for his lovely film; Jo Denison for her beautiful photographs; my husband Brian for his continued encouragement and support (especially at 4am when I was lying awake worrying); my mum and Ian for helping on installation day and Matt Light for doing the scary bit of climbing up a huge ladder to install the five 4 metre long hangings (whilst having a small child and large puppy to look after)!

The Installation of ‘Within These Walls’

So now I had five hangings printed, sewn and perspex rods ready to be inserted (thanks Ian Whyte for drilling the fittings!). Ian Harland, the owner of the barn, had worked really hard to clear it and get it ready for the installation. I’d been up there to sweep up, do a risk assessment and cover the shelving with hessian (I bought a 42 metre roll!). Now there was just the small matter of reaching the beams, which are 4 metres from the floor, to fit the screw eyes and tie the rods in. Ian managed to borrow a builder’s ladder and I was going to give it a go myself but I have to admit, despite being a fellrunner and (briefly) a potholer, I was feeling nervous. I really don’t like being up ladders. Its not a fear of heights because I love standing at the top of a mountain, I think its a fear of precariousness! I have been known to get cragfast on rocky ledges when the wind is up.

Fortunately, I got a text from my friend Matt, an arboriculturist and former tree climber extraordinaire, offering to give me a hand. This actually meant he came along and did the whole thing. My mum and her partner Ian were up for the week so they came up too and kept an eye on Matt’s little boy and wrangled his gangly pointer puppy. I was in charge of passing him the pristine white voile hangings and was responsible for making sure that nobody trod on them or got tangled up!

It was a bit fiddly and we’ve come up with all sorts of ideas to make it easier next time I hang them but essentially, the rods and line did the job and Matt made it look very easy. In the meantime, Ian Harland was mowing the grass and making everything look lovely. He has been cultivating two meadows close to the barn and they are glorious. Ian Whyte then pinned up the rest of the hessian which helped to minimise the distraction of the rack of shelving.

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After installing Within These Walls, I distributed the flyers I’d had printed and put direction signs up. I’d also had postcards of four of the plant monotypes printed. Selling them at 50p each not only gives people something to remind them of the installation but also helps recoup my petrol costs for being up at the barn each day. The Grassington Festival team made me a lovely A-board to direct people up the lane and I’m turning a blind-eye to the fact that I’ve been renamed ‘Heather Cox’ 😀

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So that’s the logistics and the installation has now been up for over a week and open for 6 days. I’ve had 138 human visitors so far and 14 dogs! In my next post I will talk more about my personal feelings about the installation now its finished and some of the visitors’ reactions to it but I think its fair to say that I’m not only relieved to have pulled this off, I’m totally delighted with just how well the prints work in the space.

NB thanks to Paula Cox and Ian Whyte for taking photos of the installing part!

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Two Flights of Swallows

So, now to the final hangings…

Having started the printing for the project in January in a world of snow and ice in Sweden, I had got hooked on the idea of doing a flock of crow silhouettes in flight. This is something I often see in the fields around where I live and would have fitted in with my original idea which included more work on the actual wall lines and the geography of the land. However, it didn’t seem very fitting when combined with the meadow imagery and was far too wintery. I briefly considered creating prints of various birds associated with meadows but was wary of it becoming an ‘I spy’ and looking a bit naff. It is quite easy to get hung up on the educational side of things and neglect the aesthetic and I definitely didn’t want to do that. So I decided upon two flights of swallows. This seemed pretty apt considering that I see them feeding over the meadows every day and they are associated with the arrival of summer in the same way that a field of meadow flowers can signal that summer days are here. IMG_1921 (1)

I have to say that these were the easiest hangings to print which was something of a relief (excuse the printmaker’s pun) after putting so much time and effort into the other ones. I started by ordering A3 sheets of 4mm EVA, 2mm perspex and a roll of double-sided adhesive paper. I then spent a day researching the flight patterns of swallows and drawing as many different shapes as I could come up with before tracing them all off and moving them about on long (to scale) strips of paper. When I’d got the designs how I wanted them, I glued each swallow in place and numbered it before scaling up each drawing to fit on an A4 sheet of paper. I then traced each one onto a piece of foam and cut it carefully out with a scalpel before cutting a piece of perspex as a mount and sticking it on to that with the sticky paper. Two days work as opposed to two weeks! 40E2268A-CE48-49C2-AEAF-DB520DD915FBI’d already hired the local village hall (very local, its down the lane that I live on) and I went in on Friday lunchtime armed with all the hangings, screen printing ink for fabrics, foam rollers, and lots of clean newsprint. I got three long tables out, covered them with clean paper, put radio 4 on and got to work. By the time The Archers came on, I’d printed the first hanging. I made sure to stay scrupulously clean, wash off each block after printing, so I didn’t have a massive load to do at the end, and print slowly and methodically to avoid silly mistakes. I used my long scale drawings as a map and I’d numbered each block so I knew which went where.

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After that all I needed to do was to iron all the hangings and roll them up. The next instalment will be the installation…

Large-scale Collagraphs

Its been a long, long road to get to this point but as I write, I’m just about to cut the final blocks for my last two hangings and will be printing them in Horton-in-Ribblesdale Village Hall later in the week. Grassington Festival is a week and half away and I’m up at the barn later today to do some final clearing up. Most importantly, I have also successfully completed my 4-metre collagraph!

I should also mention that I spent a day at ArtisOn Ltd in Masham thanks to the lovely Gaynor and Sue letting me use one of the studios for hemming the five hangings. I am also totally indebted and eternally grateful to Lorraine Garlick and Sheila Smith who gave up their free time to sew 47.5 metres of fabric for me. That is true friendship! I don’t have a sewing machine and I have very little sewing experience so what could have been a total nightmare, was actually pretty straightforward and the results are beautiful.

When I embarked upon this project, I don’t think I fully understood the implications of attempting to print a continuous 75 x 400cm collagraph but I’m glad that I didn’t let all of the set-backs and logistical problems put me off. Working on such a large scale has been challenging but really exciting. First I had to sort my design out so I worked on four pieces of cartridge paper that I divided into 1 inch squares (7 1/2″ x 10″) with the idea that I could then apply a grid to the large pieces of mount board and redraw the design using the sketch as a guide. This did work but the initial drawing took two and half days to do and then each plate took a day to draw out not to mention a day each to cut.

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The finished drawing (hard to photograph!).

My idea was that the collagraph would be a close-up study looking through a bit of meadow with a number of different flower species represented. I chose to include eyebright, yellow rattle, birds foot trefoil, bush vetch, red clover, wood crane’s-bill, meadow buttercup, pignut and sweet vernal grass. These are all species that I’m familiar with and that are found in upland meadows here in the Yorkshire Dales. I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy and detail so each plant needed to be researched and I wanted them to be accurately in scale with each other. FullSizeRenderUsing the grid system to upscale the drawings worked really well and took me back to my college days. I used four full sheets of mount board to make the plates and mainly used cutting, wood glue and gesso to create the collagraph.

I soon realised that printing at that scale, it was best to keep things quite simple but it was still a bit of a challenge to work out how to do the veins on the leaves and pignut is a such a delicate and frothy plant that it did take a lot of work to get the look just right. In the meantime I had been searching for a place to physically print the work because I needed a press that could accommodate a 75cm wide and metre long collagraph plate. No small task and I actually found myself waking in the night and having panic attacks about not being able to print the plates once I’d made them. I even found myself trying to work out how I could get such large pieces of card over to Sweden as I know Ålgården’s press would have been perfect. Fortunately I found out that Northern Print in Newcastle have a lovely big intaglio press and I made an appointment to have an induction and to print the first plate. It is a 2 1/4 hr journey to get there on a good day (with no traffic & no accidents) and my first visit saw me getting up at 5.30am and hiring a dog walker in order to get there on time and not leave my furry pals crossing their legs all day.57F6D87A-07E4-4F88-9D71-6811EE094C84

It was an unbelievable relief to discover that when I book to use the large electric press, I have sole access to it for the whole session and so can work slowly and methodically whilst not worrying about anyone else needing the press or having to reset it. I am now a member of the studio and have plans to go back and create more large-scale collagraphs there.

Each plate initially took an hour to ink and forty-five minutes to wipe in order to get a paper proof. I needed to do that for each one so that the plate would ‘settle’ and I could check it was printing exactly as I wanted it to. It meant that I had to book the press for 2 x three-hour sessions in order to print one section of the hanging. I won’t go into the entire process here as it was lengthy and stressful but imagine trying to handle an inky metre-long piece of card and print it onto a pristeen white piece of four metre voile and you’ll get a bit of an idea. I also had issues with the pressure on the first print and lifted a corner of the fabric to discover that the collagraph was pale and ill-defined. Fortunately I was able to lower it again and tighten the press to get a good print from it. After my first visit with the first successful section printed, I returned home triumphant to recount my exploits to my husband who then asked ‘but how are you going to make sure the plates match up and how are you going to get them all the same tone?’ To be honest, I hadn’t considered this but chose not to think about it too much and just to hope that I could work these problems out as I went along.

It took another two sessions (with the last one being from 10am to 8pm) to actually complete the design but it is fair to say that I’m really happy with it. Sure, there are a few flaws and I know that I could do it better a second time around (which I may have to if my Swedish contact does want to buy one for the hospital) but it is how I pictured it and I can’t wait to see it in situ.

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The first two prints successfully through the press.

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One left to print. Here I am rolling up the previous prints to protect them and make it easier to handle.

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The final print! All ready to roll up with tissue paper for transportation home.

Now I’m working on two flights of swallows that will be block-printed using screen printing inks designed for fabric and won’t require a press. Mind you, there are plenty of other factors that could go wrong but I’m choosing to ignore those for now too!

 

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!