Wednesday, 12 December 2012

papercut in progress

This is my latest paper cutout- it took about 12 hours to make in total. As usual i'm working straight onto the paper with the scalpel, without drawing anything first. I have a sketch that i use as a reference- and in this case, the sketch is based on an old photo i found in a library book. But the reason i work by eye is that it allows me to improvise as i go along, which for me makes it a drawing rather than a stencil, and it also makes it a living piece and there more interesting to produce, and thats important because of the time it takes to make. I've uploaded a better quality photo to my flickr page.

Paper cutting workshop at KLB

Yesterday I was invited back to Katherine Lady Berkley school to run a paper cutting workshop with some year 13 students. The class had drawings and photos from their recent art trip to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool and i encouraged them to work from them, straight onto the paper with a scalpel. It's quite a daunting project, but even the ones who struggled at first got into it, and made some really interesting work in the short time i was there. Thanks to all the staff for all the help throughout the day.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

UWE Mini print Private View, Thursday 6th Dec

Thanks to Steve Norton for these photos from the UWE Mini Print private view at Foyles bookshop in Bristol. The mini print project has been running for over 25 years, and i was very excited to be part of it this year. You can just about see my print on the top row- second from the left. The prints are going to be exhibited from now until the end of February, and they're all available for £18 each unframed. You can see some photos of how i made my mini print in the previous post.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

"Ain't it just like the Night" October 12

Here are some photos of me making my latest woodcut. It is for UWEs annual mini print exhibition at foyles bookshop in Bristol from December. It's an edition of 60, and i did a 5 colour print, using two blocks.

"Ain't it just like the night" is a line from a Bob Dylan song called Visions of Johanna. I was thinking about a kind of Hopperesque scene of a woman looking out of a window in a darkened room on some urban night time scene. All very mysterious and solitary, and combine this with the tactility of a woodblock print.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My top 10 artists... (in any order)

1. Picasso.
I think Picasso is abit of a boring choice because he's so famous and discussed. But in terms of exploration and output i don't think he can be matched.
2. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
The German expressionist. I love the energy in his woodcuts, like many of the printmakers in Die Brucke, his woodcuts feel very spontaneous and expressive.
3. Mark Rothenstein
Another woodcut artist, i like how he composites his layers and the looseness and texture of his prints.
4.  Alexis Preller
A South African artist, i'm interested in how he's influenced by traditional African imagery, i also like his compositions the way in which all the forms sit together
5. Edward Hopper
For his expansiveness. I love the sense of escapism in art and Hopper seems to have captured this even in his urban scenes with large empty spaces and introspective figures.
6. Casper David Freidrich
More or less the same as Hopper, but there is a difference, i think Freidrich is more spiritual and more optimistic- or naive.
7. John Sloan
I've talked about John Sloan at length on this blog. In his early work he captures the activity and edgy-ness of city life.
8. Wilhelm Sasnal
I like how Sasnal draws from contemporary influences- radio, internet etc. His painting feel very contemporary.
9. Simone Berti
His work has a striking presence. But i also find it quite funny- i hope it's meant to be...
10. Jasper Johns
Not so much for his paintings, mainly for his drawings, for the tactility of his mark making.

"Surfacing" Bocabar exhibition

Wow, i've not done any blog since July, where did that go?

These are some photos of my work in the Surfacing exhibition at the Bocabar in Bristol. The show is ongoing until the end of the month. The artists are all final year MA printmakers at UWE. The top photo is my hand burnished woodcut called "There she goes my beautiful world" second down shows two of my paper cutouts on the wall. It's a really diverse show, lots of different types of printmaking from the very traditional to digital, and Bocabar does very good pizza.

Photos taken by Steve Norton.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Some thoughts comparing my prints with the editioning i'm doing with CFPR

a photo of me in the print centre at UWE in front of a burgeoning collection of test strips 

In the first post on this blog I mused with some open-ended questions about the importance of planning and preparation in the printmaking process. Over the past two months I’ve been working on two very different projects, one of my own and one through CFPR at UWE.

With CFPR, I’ve been helping edition a woodcut series for Paul Coldwell. The blocks were made of MDF and lazercut. At the moment I’m doing test strips for white ink on black paper- we’ve already printed an edition black on white. The prints have just one layer, although for future editions colour will be added. The print I’m doing for myself is called “there she goes my beautiful world.” It’s also a woodcut, but I’m printing it as a reduction. So there will only be one edition. My aim for the print was to approach it in a painterly way- by improvising each layer as I came to it.

With the Coldwell print, we naturally made no contribution to the image, and CFPR and my involvement was purely technical. ‘We needed a perfect edition. What’s the best way of accomplishing this?’ So our approach was through lots of tests, proofs and concise documentation. There are all sorts of variables when making a run- ink consistence, rolling consistency, registration, packing and mess management- to name a few. Printing on the Columbian press we have at UWE we spent a lot of time fiddling with our packing set up. I was surprised how much the pressure varies between a test strip and a full print.

Something else I had to become familiar with was the block. I’d never printed a lazercut block before so I was interested to see how it might print differently. MDF itself prints similarly to lino; you get a sharper cut and less texture than with a regular piece of wood. This, with the precision of the lazer mean that the image we were printing was very fine and flat and required a smooth even layer of ink over the whole surface. An early problem we had was that the block itself was too thin, so when I rolled on the ink the board bent resulting in a sharp rectangular faded area on the print.

"there she goes my beautiful world" (unfinished)

The wood I’m using is from a reclamation centre in Bristol. It’s a kind of hard wood, rich in colour, fine grain and easy to cut. It’s also got dents, cracks and holes all over it, which I incorporated into my design. It also has an impact of the layer of ink. I feel things like that gives the print and the block more personality.

Unlike, the Coldwell print I’ve been hand burnishing my woodblock. I use an assortment of spoons for different pressures and surface areas. This means I don’t need to worry about packing, however I do put newsprint over the paper to keep the back clean while I’m working. I think that hand printing gives you a texture you can’t achieve on the press; it also gives you more flexibility. But it is more labour intensive, even compared to the Columbian.

One similarity between the projects is registration. For the Coldwell prints it’s simply a means of ensuring uniformity through the edition. For mine it’s necessary to make sure all the layers line up. I’m allowing myself to be fairly flexible in my edition, allowing the layers of colour to flow and interact in an open playful kind of way. I don’t mind if there is some variation, as long as it’s contained with the boarder.

It’s really important to have a safe registration method; because the less time you’re faffing with the paper- getting it in place- the less likely you are to get ink or dirt where it shouldn’t be. With the Coldwell series we developed an order for rolling, lifting, covering and so on, involving many pairs of disposable gloves all in order to make sure the environment stayed as clean as possible. I took some of the ideas into my own edition. Particularly thinking about how the Chinese printmakers have a very ergonomical set up where the inks and the papers, and the cutting and printing areas have defined stations. All within easy reach. I’ve found that having an organised base on both projects is a very effective way of anticipating a level of quality in an edition. For my own prints, it was a secure starting 

Freedom Prints at the Sigtuna Bonhoeffer Congress

Saturday, 30 June 2012

First attempt at a reverse dab print

I hope through the photo you can see the slight embossing on the print. It was a very make-shift experiment, with no proper press and no proper dabber, and just using some scrap paper in my studio. But the process seems fairly effective. I think I might have a go with some thinner paper I might be able to make up for not having a press. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

There she goes my Beautiful world- work in progress

Just an update on the work I've been doing over the last six weeks or so. The latest print I'm working on is called "there she goes my beautiful world" it's based on a Nick Cave song. The first time I heard it it came on the radio and made me jump out of bed, it seemed so energetic and thought provoking in a dark humorous kind of way. As Cave does so well.

I spent a few weeks doodling with compositions in my notebook. Thinking a little about the apocalyptic nature of the song. It also made me think about the choices we make in life and love and the consequences of them, and the transiency of life. How temporary those decisions are. I've just been mulling those thoughts over as i work. Of course the other theme of the song is the challenge of being creative. 

For this print I decided to to a reduction woodcut, unlike the previous Freedom series which was in lino. Because of this i've cut out some of the background detail, to accommodate the texture of the wood grain. 

As before, I'm hand burnishing each layer. I'm reflecting on each layer, so in effect i'm not completely sure how many layers I'll have at the end. These photos go up to 9 layers. I feel like i'm working on this in quite a painterly way, it feels very tactile.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Paul Coldwell print edition series

I’ve been really lucky over the last few weeks to be able to work with the print research department at UWE printing an edition for the artist Paul Coldwell. It’s been am interesting experience for me to see how a print studio goes about dealing with an artist and for myself, working with someone elses work. Compared to my usual movements in the print centre. This job required that I take a more considered approach to the layout of the space, the tools I used and more frequent reflections on progress. At times I felt like I was in an operating theatre as I’d be asked to pass the scraper for fishing dried ink or dust off the block.
Of course one of out main considerations was which music would be most efficient in aiding the job. I didn’t have a huge amount of say in the choice of Absolute radio but I didn’t mind, although I wish their no repeats policy extended to adverts. Time was spent documenting which 80’s classics were most effective to role to. Notably Gun’s ‘n’ Roses is not.
Thinking about what I’ve learnt from working on this project so far. There are lots of little things, like experimenting different ways of packing the Columbian press, practicing inking up the block and changing ink consistency, how many disposable gloves one must get through to keep the ink where it’s meant to be. Also evaluating and discussing each print, and learning what to look for; Theorising how we might over come issues is something that you don’t tend to do when you’re working on your own work, so I’ve enjoyed being part of that discussion.
This is a link to the CFPR editions twitter page and an image of me trying to look intelligent.!/CFPR_EDITIONS

lino workshop with the experimental drawing group

I had a fun evening last week doing a lino cutting workshop with the Experimental drawing group in Bristol. I think everyone had a good evening, and the prints they were producing looked fantastic. There will be some more photos appearing on their blog. But until then, this is the link for their facebook page:

Thursday, 12 April 2012

On the way to Freedom

As a printmaker I feel governed by the rules of good practice, however the artist in me is always fighting to break free from these ideals & push the boundaries of what my images look like and how they are produced. I'm lucky that I have the artistic freedom and the freedom of expression to explore more or less as I like. The challenges I face developing my artwork don't begin to compare with the choices Bonhoeffer had to deal with in Nazi Germany, when he chose to stay and was ultimately imprisoned and executed for his stance against the regime. His poem, the way to freedom comes from his oppressed musing during his incarceration. In his writings at this time we can see how freedom itself felt very distant and remote, and how hopeless he must have felt his situation. But at the same time it is as if Bonhoeffer is trying to draw strength from an abstract sense of freedom, probing the depths of his mind and even his spirit to find something more aspirational in his solitude. This manifests in his writing with an intensity that I don't think he could have achieved had he not been under that sort of stress. 

As part of my residency at Tyndale Baptist Church in Bristol I was asked to respond to the lent series the church was following on The way to Freedom. The text had been divided into six sections, one for each week in the build up to Easter. I decided to do one print for each section and this evolved into a diptych of the first and final images and four smaller portraits. Unlike the images I produced for the church at advent, which were more spontaneous; a new image made during each week and then presented, I opted to spend more time planning the series and exhibit them in entirety on Easter Sunday. The medium I used was reduction lino prints, and I hand burnished each print.

Now, I'm very influenced by German and American art, usually the graphic styles of the early 20th Century, but with the concept of freedom I thought alot more about their attentiveness to atmosphere, escapism and the way- particularly the German romantics could express with in a visual way. In the first print: "The way to Freedom," I wanted to present openness and optimism and the buzz you get when you feel there are no boundaries. The image is from a drawing I did in Canada from the Sunshine Coast near Vancouver. The viewer is looking out across the bay at mountains on the far shore. I made the sky busy, and to contrast, via Warhol, I made the water flat and geometric.

I said this paired with the last image- titled "death". I found a quote from Bonhoeffer which said "Death is the supreme festival on the way to freedom." This says two things to me, it's a celebration of life and purpose in life, and a statement that death- in whatever form should not be feared. The print is another landscape, but i find it hard to describe because it was a very intuitive thing to develop. The path is an extension of the sky from "The way to freedom" thus making more literal the writers quote. Aside from that at the horizon is a series of plums stretching out into the sky. I suppose it makes sense to be mysterious and awesome. 

The first of the small portraits is called "Discipline" and in more detail the text talks about the freedom that can be expressed through self-discipline. This brought back memories of Philosophy lessons, in which I believe it was Kant who promoted virtue ethics and the importance of understanding ones self and one's limitations. With this in mind I turned to the course material which talks of Jesus being tested in the desert, and I simpily tried to illustrate that. It links to another Biblical story as well- Jonah and the responsibility we take in the choices we make, and so i decided to illustrate Jonah being swallowed by the Whale for the third image- "action." Jonah must have been on Bonhoeffer's mind too, because he wrote a poem about him in his prison letters. Number four talks of the community, for this and with thoughts on palm Sunday I decided to portray a couple of donkeys with Jerusalem in the background. Finally image five was called "Suffering," I chose to illustrate Bohoeffer in prison. Influenced by some of the portraits of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, who was very affected by the first world war in a way that's very apparent in his prints, and I thought that fact translated well. 
Of course there is meaning behind these prints, but I wanted to make something which didn't force any particular statements on the viewer, I wanted something that might be thought provoking and reflective, and something that could be presented with or without the poem. 

The series before and after they were presented at Tyndale Baptist Church. I'll be putting better photo on my flickr account soon. Also this is a link to the lent course, including the poem and details of the background reading:

Saturday, 24 March 2012

residency at Katherine Lady Berkley

I had a great week as artist in residency at Katherine Lady Berkley school. This is an image of a selection of lino prints some of the year 9's produced during a day long masterclass i ran. The students brought along photos they wanted to work from, and i had them drawing from the image, reworking the shapes with a thought towards the marks you might make in the lino. Finally we talked about hand burnishing the prints and printed the lino with watercolour ink. None of the students had done lino printing before, and i was really impressed with the work they produced. 

I was working with classes of year 9 to year 13. As well as the masterclasses this I did talks and demonstrations about my own work and influences and did short classes getting the students to experiment relief prints and scalpel sketches, I also did some one on one tutorials with students. I was also lucky to join a year 10 graphics trip to Slimbridge wildlife centre where the students were doing observational drawing and researching logo designs in the cafe there.

Monday, 19 March 2012

On the importance of drawing to Process 1

This last week I’ve been the artist in residence at Katherine Lady Berkley school. There’s a certain atmosphere in schools; must be something they put in the walls or that everything is slightly smaller. I really didn’t enjoy going to school when I was younger. I found it uninspiring  and restrictive. However, I really enjoyed my week at KLB, it’s got great facilities and the students and staff were enthusiastic. Part of my role there was to talk to the students about my practice, and I wanted to use this opportunity to reflect on my methodology, and how I think about and generate my art.

I think one area of my practice that I’ve naturally gravitated towards in these talks has been the important role that drawing plays in my work. It always seems to be a cornerstone in any concept I want to develop. Over the course of the weeks I saw patterns growing in the repetition of my presentations. One of these was that I regularly told the students about the different types of drawing I do; from observation, memory, imagination, copying other artists drawings looking at technique and drawing from multimedia resources like the internet. I really wanted to emphasis how useful it is to tap into all of these inputs, both in terms of technique and utilising the breadth of material out there.

It’s also important to feel comfortable drawing and a big part of that is having a good sketchbook. When I was at school there was a tendency for students to dislike sketchbook, because it felt like a chore. So I showed them some of my sketchbooks which kind of double as notebooks and are probably the only really anal part of my practice. I think in my mind it’s a bit like Indiana Jones’ notebook, but I like to romanticise everything… In fact today- as I type- is the first time I’ve left my Dec-Feb notebook at home and I do feel slightly exposed in a weird way. But, the point I wanted to make to the students is that in order to keep a sketchbook it’s important to find a format that works for you. I use a6 size Seawhite fake moleskins, and I’ve found that that size and design suit my purposes and I have one on me most of the time, and in that way it has become a very accessible document for me.

This week I’ve spent time thinking about my scalpel sketches (see my flickr account for images) and how they represent a progression in my drawing. It’s been the first time I’ve had a chance to reflect on them. What is the relationship between a papercut and a drawing? 

Monday, 5 March 2012

the myth of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

I was first introduced to the German Expressionist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff by my old tutor, who told me how the artist would sit on the troop train during the first world war carving into his woodblocks; looking out of the window at the broken landscape as it rolled by. This is emphasised by the roughness and energy we can see in his subsequent prints. Now, through my own research I've found no evidence what so ever that this is true and i suspect my tutor heard it from a bloke in the pub. However this myth, has lived on in my imagination.

I think there is a certain romance that comes to mind with the combination of travel and creativity. Look at the folk singer, sleeping rough on a goods train, trekking across the states, overseeing the open empty space as it chugs by. Absorbing the rythm of the rails. What's that quote about the artist just passing through? Regurgitating what he can see or feel. Both part of the space and separate to it.

Then we have the jump from conceptual movement to the physical movement in making. Like the strings on the battered old acoustic guitar Schmidt-Rottluff plucks away with his knife, he cuts and gauges. Excavating the scene, exposing his composition. Invigorated by the ruins of war, the terror the distress. Around him the smells, the noise. The soldiers fear as they move into battle. Shells explode overhead. The wooden carriage creaks, and he keeps digging, lost in his imagination.

Then in printing, we see these marks transposed onto paper. The artists working out. Spade marks. Rough, dirty, human, real. There's no perfection here, not in the hell of war. In the trenches, in the dark train carriage. Fear and death matted in his hair and under his finger nails. 

This is a link to some of Schmidt-Rottluff's work in the MOMA collection:

Thursday, 1 March 2012

What is the importance of the process in printmaking?

The other day I was talking to a researcher in the print research department at UWE, discussing the finer points of registration for relief printmaking and, looking at his preparatory notes I said that I didn’t tend to bother planning or being careful when I was doing my own work.

This had led me to think about the role of process in my practice. Is it important for the printmaker to plan every detail of their next run ahead? Why is planning and preparation important in printmaking? Is there something to be said for going gun-ho into a print job or is that just careless?