Saturday, February 25, 2012

I was supposed to be making a map, but ....

While my excursions were limited, when I was looking after my mother, I dreamed of escaping away to West Dean for some course or other: no responsibilities other than working for a few days.  So, once my time was my own again I immediately thought - I must book a course. 
Over the past few years I have become progressively convinced that my design abilities were going stale, and so the input I most needed was to shake up my active visual decision-making.  The printmaking classes I started last year have been enormously helpful in that regard, and I recently increased them from one day to two per week.  But all the preparation drawing for the printmaking is done at home, usually using stuff from my files - and so it had to be a drawing class at West Dean.
I did not want life drawing, or beginners drawing, and noted Innovative drawing as appropriate.  Of course, I did not pay sufficient analytical attention to the second half of the title of the workshop: Innovative drawing: mapping a personal journey.  Well, my life has been absolutely jam-packed with journeys, literal and emotional - but I chose a recent journey (that can be seen at the bottom of this previous post) along a boardwalk with no endpoint at Dungeness, a place full of contradictory atmospheres and attractions both visual and emotional.
I did lots of research about shingle in general, shingle at Dungeness, the buildings at Dungeness, the endangered species living in the shingle which the boardwalk protects from the heavy-footed humans, ... looked up maps, ... and prepared a notebook and several printouts.  Well, it was too much.  I felt that any map I would come up with would simply be a copy of what was already in my notes.  I was stumped.
But I had come away to concentrate on drawing, so that's what I did.  All the time I had been doing my research the back of my mind had been beavering away at possibilities for representing shingle.  It did not pop anything into the front of my mind until my hand got going with my soft pastels.
I love working with soft pastels: I find their feel voluptuous, and liberating.  I can let myself go when using them.  I have never been to any classes, but fell into using them as powder on my fingers, and for that reason my favourite pastels are those made by Unison in Northumbria.  They are the softest and crumble easily.  The pigment is dense, and I have found that once scanned it retains that purity of colour even when reproduced on cotton for my quilts.
So, for the two and a bit days of the workshop I concentrated largely on the elements which attracted me most: the shingle, the dead stems of the sea cabbage, the geological and biological information about the shingle, and the boardwalk. 
The shingle manifest itself in pastel and pen, in layers on coloured paper.
The stems of the crambe maritima (sea cabbage) had made a great impression on me - a robust plant - a survivor in this alien environment, but their skeletal winter stems were brittle and fragile.

Simply drawing them straight was not going to be enough.  This is where sheer luck came in.
Because my husband was away from home at the same time, I decided to get a new small suitcase for myself.  At the last minute when leaving the house I thought I'd better take some stitching with me in case of boredom in the evening, and opened a supplementary compartment to put the work in.  It was stuffed with paper which I just pushed into the bag with all my art materials for the weekend.
Well - that paper has turned out to be just glorious stuff!  I scrunched it, then spread it out flat, then covered it with pale pastel, and then drew with an extremely fine pen along some of the folds.  For me it captured how I felt about those skeletal stems.
I was so delighted with the marks on the paper that I utilised that method to reproduce all the notes which had fascinated me: I wrote on more pastel-covered scrunched paper.  I used two colours: what is commercially known as sepia in a pen, and black, in the finest pen I could find.  I wrote out my notes about the kind of shingle formation found at Dungeness, and also on a separate sheet I wrote the names of endangered local bees and beetles.
But despite all the fun I had doing this, it was hardly what was expected of me in that workshop.  I did make a couple of half-hearted attempts at collages, but it all looked dreadful.  And as I say, my heart was not in it.  I embraced failure on that part because I had succeeded in other ways.  I realise now that there is no longer the need for a weekend away because I can go back to making a mess in my own home, and leave it there for as long as I like.
I thought that the drawings would come to nought, but as so often happens, the back of my mind was still powering away, and yesterday I started on the design in progress at the top of this post.  It looks like all my other stuff, but I guess that's just what I do.
I think that I might just possibly have finally learned that I have the greatest difficulty in squeezing my work work into any kind of deliberate theme or form.  I can do it for picking up a new technique, or exploring some creative area outside my work, but although I could happily, using my skills from my previous career commission innovative maps from other artists - I must admit to myself that I, myself, am not interested in making one.
It was not completely a waste of time going to West Dean for the weekend, but it had been such a seductive idea for so long that that blinded me to its actual value to me and my work.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A beautiful place for a working break

West Dean is a splendid setting for a wide variety of popular courses.  This was my room this last weekend when I was on a drawing course - I was lucky enough to have a view over the parkland in front of the house.  It was beautifully open and empty (except for sheep and rooks) early in the morning when I awoke.

It was such a pleasure to stroll round before and during workshop sessions.
The trees are especially beautiful in the park.  I love the contrast between the clipped evergreen shrubs and the large deciduous majestics.
I walked round past the beautiful snowdrops at the back of the house every day
on my way to the Orangery where our drawing class was taking place.
A lot of lovely mess with soft pastels, scrunchy paper, and fine pens.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Singing praises

I just want to say how much I am enjoying reading this book: Robert Rauschenberg Breaking Boundaries by Robert S. Mattison, published by Yale .  It is one of those extraordinary texts which really tells you so much about the work of an artist.  I find it like being in Rauschenberg's studio while he works.
Mattison takes five bodies of work by Rauschenberg and examines them in intimate detail: the making, the meaning, the influences, .... There are photographs illustrating what is discussed, but this is primarily a book full of fascinating text.  It was written with Rauschenberg's co-operation, and was published when he was alive.
For someone like me, constantly asking questions about artistic expression in my own work as well as that of established artists, it is a treasure chest.  It starts with a description of Rauschenberg's purpose built studio and how it functions, so is very much concerned with how he made art as well as why. 
I am finding it brilliant, it makes me feel really great - and to think I stumbled across it in Amazon when I was looking for something else to do with printmaking!   Now I just want to shout about it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Food for thought

On Tuesday I went off to see a good friend.  We spent the day at Riverside Mill in Bovey Tracey, Devon.  I have not been there for years, and was interested to see the refurbishments, with the new exhibition gallery space.  Quilt Art is having an exhibition there at present and I was delighted to be able to see it.  There are some extraordinary pieces in the show, and Janet Haigh shows several of them in her post here.  The image above is from the lovely catalogue, and shows a detail from Fenella Davies' piece.
I found the exhibition thought-provoking, and it is still simmering in my mind.  For me it is one of those slow burners, thoughts of which pop up while I am doing something else rather than fully demanding space in my brain all the time.  One of the thoughts relates to a topic which I chew over from time to time: that of how different a 2D photo of a quilt or even detail of a quilt can look from the actual work.  And we see works in photographic form so much more often than for real.
The piece in the exhibition which appealed to me most on Tuesday, and continues to do so in the catalogue is that of Anne Worringer: Les bulles bleues et roses.
Here is a detail from the catalogue:

But in the end what appealed to me most of all was not in the exhibition: it was a piece of ceramic sculpture by John Maltby, rather like the Sentinel angel below.  Unfortunately the woman with the shield was rather too large for my purse, and so I have come away with my mind full, but my arms empty.  And now full of thoughts and various inspirations I'm off tomorrow to a drawing workshop over the long weekend.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Attempts in printmaking

A rather smudgy drypoint.  And of course I could not resist using fish
because I wanted to try putting them with some swirling water I'd printed using a polyester litho plate.
From drypoint we went on to stumblings around etching:
This first version on a slate plate benefited from chine colle - tissue paper with residual ink from another printing.  Then I tried a hard ground to add more details.
I do love inking up with more than one colour for a single printing - laziness perhaps?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Something fishy ...

I have been working on a new image: Chasing fish (work in progress, above), and am feeling positive about it.  But what is it about me and fish?  They seem to surface regularly.
A grand catch
Facing the fish
Fish grey
Boisson, poisson
Flying tonight
The goldfish bowl
 I have used fish in my printmaking exercises:
and I have a design on file which I have not yet had printed:
Plunge pool
Whatever the mood, the fish seem to be there with me, lurking somewhere not very far away.