I meant to write this post in January but time eluded me. A fitting reminder that life is not still. I gave myself a solid week in the studio after Christmas, using the time to monoprint more bridges which also lead to some happy accidents with printed textures. I’ve now had my printing press and therefore the opportunity to learn through consistent practice for a year. It’s frustrating going back to the beginning, not being proficient at something, but I’m also enjoying the challenge and I’m beginning to see improvements and more importantly have ideas about where I want to take it.
After enjoying hand printing a small Lino reduction Christmas card, I decided to be a little more ambitious and have another go at a four colour reduction Lino-print. The theme continues a series focusing on individual plant specimen found on the canal (Ivy) and to memorialise my New Orleans mug which has seen better days. Did I achieve the outcome I was intending? Not fully. Was it worth doing? Absolutely I learnt a great deal.
I had a lot of fun dyeing cloth a myriad of greens and finally got around to screen printing a small green grass like mark on cloth, an idea I’ve been meaning to give life to for a while. This pile of materials will expand over time and eventually become a quilt. I’ve observed that I complete on average one quilt each winter, the quilt which has loitered in a state of printed cloth or basted layers all year gets hand stitched and finished ready for next winter’s bed. I don’t really see my quilts as art (although they are all original one-offs of my fabrics and design), to me one of the special qualities of the quilt is its functionality. I sometimes exhibit them but I would never sell them, they are used in my home.
I find winter an interesting time in my cycle of creativity. I think I become more of a maker and researcher in winter. I am not an artist who works from my imagination or who works with process. I need experiences and direct observation to express and represent through my art. In my current work this means spending time on the canal and I will admit that the idea of working outside for too long in the winter months isn’t hard to put off. I am more likely to pull on my running shoes and visit for an hour at pace than stand and draw.
To the outsider looking in, these projects may seem disparate, but they are all hinged on ideas inspired by previous series, places I am experiencing and an ever-learning art practice. Somehow eventually it all comes together into some finished work – I just need to turn up, work and follow where it all leads.
Another week immersed in my canal bridge series; running, photographing, writing, drawing and monoprinting. Ink, dye, cloth, papers of tissue, washi and bread and butter. Working in charcoal or graphite I draw preliminary tonal compositions where photo, observation and memory combine to capture the essence of each bridge’s character.
Like a street artist’s tag you sweep an arc across the canal.
Placed with permanence, listed to prevent erasure.
Bridges are places but, they are not destinations. They provide connections, pathways and geographic markers. Their story is created by the people and wildlife that use them. The cut of the canal often stands as a place between. Villages, farms, housing estates, factories and footpaths. It is frequented by walkers and runners, factory workers on a smoke break, commuters on bikes, drinkers partying or numbing. There is an edge here and the bridges join the edges like a row of insertion stitches.
You stand out of bounds, observing the muddied, silted society, which treads your path.
Which litter your path, with lunchtime wrappers, bottles of dog and an old pair of pants.
July saw a number of projects reach fruition; with an exhibition in Stroud and finalising/printing a booklet of my “Life is not still” series.
After several postponed or cancelled exhibitions due to COVID, it was great to see my pebble series hanging at the Lansdown Rooms in Stroud, part of the CQ West Unfolding Stories exhibition at the start of the month. Just coming out of lockdown visitor numbers were not surprisingly lower than normal, but those that came were evidently glad to be seeing work in person again. In the post-exhibition reflection there is always a question about whether it was a success, but how do you define success? I’m sharing here just some of my thoughts on why exhibiting is worthwhile;
The deadline provides a focus to down select ideas and complete/finish work (if you are like me and enjoy to process of research and experimentation more than finishing anything this is really useful)
Stewarding exhibitions allows you to speak with your audience and capture feedback, those rich conversations can also lead to new networks, opportunities or ideas.
Inspire others. If you enjoy looking at and are inspired by artwork, chance are other people will be interested and inspired by yours. It’s only fair that you are willing to share your own creative expression with the world.
It provides closure to a project/series or piece of work and if it’s a positive experience can help motivate future work
Sales provide income (and sometimes come after the exhibition)
Practice makes perfect – through exhibiting you learn how to exhibit. There are lots of skills an artist needs beyond creative skills; how to write proposals or seek out venues, curating, publicity, budgeting, finance.
Which leads me neatly on;
One of the exhibition skills I’ve been trying to learn is how to create digitally printed catalogues/booklets. Over the last few year I had created the “Life is not still” series which documents a year on the canal through monthly paintings and drawings of the flora and twelve pen portraits capturing the weather, wildlife and wider observations. Not knowing if I would ever get to the opportunity to exhibit these works (due to lockdown) I was keen to find an alternative format to find that closure and a format that allowed me to share the work, and so, this project became the guinea pig to learn a new skill.
The booklets will be on sale at exhibitions in 2022 cost £10+ P&P, if you would like a copy earlier please email me on Thursdayschild@talktalk.net
Each step along the towpath this month is a study in botany. May’s record rainfall followed by June’s summer sun results in a bounty of green and delicate wild flowers. The reedbeds, verges and woodlands which edge the canal are overflowing with Parsley’s, wild roses, elderflower, clovers, common mallow, woody nightshade and the hot sting of nettles. In previous years I have gathered bunches of plants to draw and paint – summing up the month in a vase (Life is not Still series) , but now I am familiar with it’s seasonal displays and changes I find myself looking closer and learning about individual specimens (Life is not Still – 2).
I’ve also been continuing my Canal Bridge series, with last months woodcut reduction now printed (edition of 7), and a sketch prepared ready to design the next. Once again drawing on location attracts attention and conversation from boaters and walkers and I have another offer of a rowing boat to draw from – an offer I haven’t yet been brave enough to accept, but it’s food for thought.
And finally, after many cancellations, I have my Pebble Series showing in a group Exhibition “Unfolding Stories 4” which is about to open in Stroud. I’ve packed and delivered the work for hanging and I am stewarding in the Gallery on Saturday 3rd July and Saturday 10th July. Maybe see you there?
This month I have been trying to bring together my “Life is not still” series into a printed booklet. I realised that I have gaps in poetry for April and paintings for May – I puzzled over why, what had stopped me visiting the canal last year? Now I realise as the weather improves I kick into cycling and running mode and for a moment my art takes a back seat as I gorge on the sunshine, lighter days and being outdoors. Like all things, my art also works in seasonal cycles.
As I finish one series, there is always another on the backburner and I’ve been continuing to work with the Canal bridges, sketching on location helps to distil 100s of pieces of data into what interests me about a subject. I’ve taken lots of photo’s but when I view them back in the studio they fail to capture something. Useful as reference to jog the memory, but no substitute for the true observation that drawing directly dictates. I realise drawing the bridges that it’s the patchwork of brickwork, distinctive features and splashes of odd colour that interest me. My partner says all the bridges are the same, but they are not. Even all the stone bridges with the traditional arch shaping will have their own particular characters, a splotch of coloured graffiti, a gas pipe or iron work addition, repairs in mismatched brick, a particular tree or plant life in it’s landscape. Much like I used to do in my beach combing series, I find myself looking at repetitions of the same object (bridges) and finding the unique in the ubiquitous.
In the studio, I continue to play with my press. I am preparing another reduction woodcut print, building on the lessons learned from the last one, I have gesso’d the plate to seal it which prevents the sharpie design printing onto the paper and also means it’s easier to wash the ink without getting water into the ply and distorting the plate. I have tried a new method of registering the reduction. Printing is 90% preparation. It’s methodical and repetitive. This ordered process appeals to me.
I inherited my Dad’s wood workshop a few years ago. Most of the tools are old, rusty and unusable, but he had an old woodworking bench which he made himself, it’s worn but solid and I have converted it into my printing table. As I stood there inking up my woodcut, I felt a sense of continuity, using wood ,some of his tools, and finding my own terms to create with them.
Another winter survived, much as I love Winter’s skeletal forms and muted colours, the dark days play with my mind and spirit and I’m always glad when Spring finally arrives. The last two weeks it’s been light enough to walk or run before breakfast, a quiet time on the canal towpath, I meet mainly other runners or dog walkers. Signs of life this month are in the form of nettles, cleavers and last months lords and ladies, alongside a new arrival of hawthorn and cherry blossom marking the start of warmer and longer days to come.
In my studio I’ve been using a drawing of the cuckoo pint to create a woodcut and try some printmaking skills on my new press; a 4 way colour reduction gave me opportunity to try registering prints, use of extender and transparent layers of colour, chine colle, cutting up the plate and just using the press to get the feel for it. One thing I have learnt is; I have a lot to learn!
The print depicted here is one of ten, all slightly different through additions of chin colle or adjustments in the printing. There is much wrong with it, but I’ve taken lots of lessons onboard through the process of the making which I can carry forward into my next set of prints.
In my “Life is not Still” series, I have been playing on the idea of traditional still life paintings and their use to show status, by elevating the wild plants and weeds of the canal, bringing them indoors, arranging in vases and painting/drawing them, and capturing elements of my home/interior as compositional backdrop. In this print, instead of a vase I used a pasta sauce jar, I particularly like this element, once again elevating the ordinary.
Birdlife and the aptly named Cuckoo Pint have dominated my walks and runs along the canal this month. A buzzard upsetting the jackdaws, robins and coal tits at the hedgerow feeders (not sure who hangs them out). More unusually though, a white duck and a cormorant diving for fish, oddities in the normal flow of things. Perhaps even mother nature has been thrown off kilter by lockdown.
I’ve had a solid week in the studio this month continuing experiments with my bridge series. I’ll say one thing for lockdown, it has been a lesson in how much I can achieve when distractions and to a degree choice are removed; no galleries, supply shops, social commitments or travel to compete for my time. With the money saved in lockdown I’ve finally bitten the bullet and invested in a press which is going to allow me to take projects into print. I’m not prone to pessimism, but travel in 2021 isn’t looking that much more likely than 2020. I like to have things to look forward to, so I’m planning on holiday’s at home and an opportunity to learn some new printmaking skills and perhaps build on those learnt at a woodcut workshop I took back in 2019 (where does time go?).
January is one of the few missing months in my Life is not still series. So, at the beginning of this month I added the following to my to do list; “Collect/paint vase of canal flora for January”…..it hasn’t happened, but I know why and, it’s probably the same reason as last year. January is dormant.
It’s not just lockdown, it’s as if the world itself is lying quietly in wait, resting, preparing for the year ahead. The flora hasn’t moved on from December, the barges are battened down, a dusting of snow last weekend dampened the sound, even the ducks seem to be in hiding although, I have seen the blue flash and red breast of the kingfisher and three brave swans bashing their way through the thick icy waters.
One plant which has attracted my attention is the tropical looking Hart’s Tongue Fern (Asplenium Scolopendrium) which grows on the verges all year around between the woodland and towpath. I’ve made some studies in paint and pencil of the long glossy leaves, with their fluted edges and striking pattern of spores. These studies will be tucked away until next January when I will revisit and work from them.
Meanwhile I’ve been working from some of the Canal bridge photos and data I collected during November’s lockdown (given I can’t travel to collect anymore at the moment!) I’m experimenting with the concertina book format, as if the viewer is walking along the towpath and viewing the bridges from either the east or west depending which end of the book you start. It’s a working maquette, trialling different media and ways to depict the bridge images. All a bit literal and figurative at the moment, but evolving slowly.
Slow. An apt word for January and life under lockdown but, slowing down and extra time, brings opportunity to reflect and, the boundaries of constraint forces creativity.
November, and we find ourselves in another National Lockdown. As we are still allowed outside to exercise I’m trying to see it as an opportunity to start researching another aspect of the canal I’ve been musing on; Bridges.
What is a bridge? A means of connection or transition, a link between two “places”, a structure to go over an obstacle, a relief from repetition. Perhaps it is quite apt to study them as a project to get through Lockdown.
Starting at Lock 7, and the Entrance of the Kennet and Avon Canal (the navigation goes much further into Bristol), I started walking, photographing and making notes. I realised some time ago that I have nick names for my local bridges and mentally they act as markers in mapping where I am, or how far I have to go. I didn’t realise they had official names until I read “The Kennet & Avon Canal, A user’s guide to the waterways between Reading and Bristol” by Niall Allsop (ISBN 0948975288).
In the last year I’ve been making mental notes of their numbers (they each have a number plaque) and how curiously, they sometimes skip numbers (where did bridge 159 go?)
The types of bridge are various; swing bridges, stone bridges, wooden footbridges, ornate iron bridges, aqueducts and tunnels (are these bridges?). Each has it’s own character & shape.
I have a few idea’s of where I could take this series, but for now, I will just walk, collect images of Bridges and let thoughts meld.