Saturday 18 August 2018

Summer Art Journal Week Four

This week has seen the final instalment of the Slamsey's Creative Summer Challenge which I've been taking part in for the last while. This week's theme was 'Same Time, Same Place'. Intriguing and thought-provoking? Yes, I thought so too. I immediately wished I had taken more photographs earlier in the year so that I had a visual record on hand to draw on, of the way the local landscape, and the garden change, subtly, or not so subtly, with the passing weeks, but I didn't. Note to self: think ahead on this for next year! There are some blogs which have made a feature of this kind of photography and it's always interesting to see what changes and what stays the same. Colours often change subtly but significantly and the way the light falls, of course, changes quite dramatically, sometimes on a daily basis, any distance away from the Equator.

Along with a weekly theme, the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge has provided a selection of prompts and suggestions to help the artistic process along. You can find this week's ones here. The idea that germinated for me this week was Anne's suggestion, to 'view a scene made famous by an artist and interpret it in your own way'. Possibilities there, definitely. But what type of scene? Which artist? How could I go about the interpreting bit? In the end I applied the 'same time, same place' idea not just to the subject of a well-known painting, but also to some of the themes and methodology I've been used in recent weeks which seemed a nice way to gather up the threads of the challenge as it came to its conclusion.

I chose two paintings as starting points, partly because I couldn't decide which to go with and partly because I quite like working on several fronts at the same time - allows room for one idea to stall, while the other develops and vice versa.

The two paintings I chose were Vincent Van Gogh's 'Starry Night'

and a still-life by Cézanne, entitled 'Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier'.

Both are very well known paintings, although very different from one another. I thought I might revisit my stitched landscape postcard idea and do a stitched collage version of the Van Gogh landscape and then make a larger scale, painted / printed paper collage of the still-life, using some of the scrap painted and printed paper I had accumulated over recent weeks.

So far, so good. I printed off images of each painting and did some initial sketches on scrap paper.

My printer played up and printed the colours rather badly, not to say surreally, which I realise has had a bit of an effect ultimately on my colour-matching efforts but I tell myself, that I was never after a slavish copy anyway. I propped the copies and sketches up in the kitchen and thought about them, while making bread and washing the tiles.

The Van Gogh landscape is an interesting painting. It was painted in June 1889 and shows the view from the window of the artist's room in l'Abbaye de St Paul-de-Mausole in St Rémy-de-Provence, where he spent a year receiving therapeutic treatment for his deteriorating mental health and shows the landscape just before dawn.

The Alpilles rise to the right of the painting, their slopes a shadowy violet in the early light. In the foreground, a handful of characteristic Provençal cypress trees stand dark and silent, and between the trees and the mountains, Van Gogh has painted a village, nestling in the hollow. Above the trees and roof-tops, a dramatic dawn sky is spread out with a large crescent moon, radiating brightness well beyond it's slim shape and stars dot the lightening sky in luminous spots of light. One star, in particular, is bigger than the others, (the one to the right of the cypress trees) - this is Venus, the Morning Star, herself. It glows like a miniature sun in the blue heavens. It looks disproportionately large but, in fact, research has shown that, in that year, Venus was unusually bright and glowed especially large in the sky. The moon however, Van Gogh has used a bit of artistic licence on - it wasn't a crescent in exactly that form, apparently, in June 1889. He also used artistic licence by including the village - you can't see the village from the window of his room. I was pleased about that as I thought including the village would make the scene too complicated to piece together in fabric and I'd already decided to replace it with a few more cypress trees. What was sauce for the artist, was sauce for the plagiarist, I felt!

The arresting sky in the painting owes a lot to the dramatic swirl of highlighted cloud that rolls across it, the visible brush-strokes giving a sense of movement and life to the whole scene. The question of how to evoke that effect in fabric exercised me somewhat. In the end I decided to experiment with a bit of free-form machine embroidery which was completely new territory for me. I googled a few videos demonstrating how to do it, dug out my unused, free-form embroidery sewing-machine foot and some variegated thread, dropped the sewing-machine's feed-dog and had a go. The results were not promising to begin with - the needle seemed wildly out of control (it was wildly out of control) and great tiger's teeth stitches leapt forth in a manner that would have been comic, had I not been too busy concentrating on not sewing my fingers instead of the fabric, to be amused. Eventually, I worked out that you have to run the machine fast and move the fabric relatively slowly, to get a much greater concentration of smaller stitches. It still wasn't too controlled but I felt I was getting somewhere. I decided a scrap sample was both desirable and necessary to avoid ruining the 'postcard'.

I'm quite pleased with the end result although it's very far from perfect. To be on the safe side, I stitched an outline for the cloud swirl using the sewing-machine in the ordinary manner, within which I could go free-form so long as I didn't stray outside the stitched boundary and that helped a lot.

The stars were particularly tricky as I had to move the fabric in tiny circles with the machine running very fast to get the concentration of colour. Rather stressful as it's absolutely impossible to unpick this kind of stitching, if it goes irretrievably wrong. The rest of the collage was fairly straightforward by comparison, following on from my stitched landscape postcards of last week.

Van Gogh, it is not, but un hommage, may be? I hope so. St Rémy-de-Provence is one of my favourite places and revisiting it in this way was rather special.

The still-life collage, which I thought would be the easier of the two projects, was the reverse. It turned out, in fact, to be a curious combination of random, but happy, accident and deliberate, rather painful, artistic struggle!

Cézanne was one of the most gifted late 19th C impressionist painters and this particular still-life was, at one stage, the most expensive still-life ever purchased, fetching $60,502,500 at Sothebys in New York, in 1999. Cézanne was interested in (and masterful at) executing perspective which, in this painting, he manages to evoke from two separate angles. Let's just be clear from the outset, I wasn't even going to try to replicate that! The shapes however, are clear and defined and I felt would lend themselves well to being represented in a collaged medium. Cézanne painted these particular objects quite often; not exactly the same fruit of course, but the water-jug, the bowl and the curtain all appear in his work several times, along with various items of fresh fruit. While the tones of the inanimate objects are very nuanced and subtle, the fruit is painted in a simpler style - there is some variation of tone but not much.

I had a number of discarded gelli print papers that I thought might find new life through becoming collage components - the colours of the water-jug in particular seemed very similar to the backgrounds I had printed for my prints of reflections in water and the table is made up of a sun-bleached grass 'discard' that was too uniform for my shoe prints. The other components needed some fabrication to get the right colours so I spent a happy time blending appropriate colours of acrylic paint for the fruit, plate, tablecloth and curtain on the gelli plate and using a brayer to apply them directly to pieces of cartridge paper which, as you can see, I laid out on the floor to dry.

The background I blended in the same way but applied directly onto a gessoed page in my art journal. Some of the papers looked vaguely promising, others less so, but when I laid the simple fruit stencils I'd drawn, based on the shapes in the painting, on the papers, the potential leaped to life. And yes, I know Cézanne had oranges and no plums on his compotier. I have swapped out some of Cézanne's fruit salad for my own mix here!

The colour variations in my fruit pieces were quite subtle and pleasingly naturalistic, more so than in the original painting really - the apples looked good enough to tempt Snow White; the plums had that characteristic, dusty, blue bloom; the pears, enhanced rather than damaged by a slightly too heavy-handed slurp of brown paint mixed with the yellows, looked more pear-like than ever - as though they were heading to that stage of buttery ripeness that indicates if you don't eat them straightaway they will veer to juice and woolly flesh; the lemons were flecked with green streaks from a felicitous previous paint layering and, with a little mottling on their rinds, they looked as if they had fallen straight from an Italian tree. I'd been fairly cavalier in mixing my paint blends - time had been short and I was in a hurry to get them painted and dry. How lucky a strike was this?!

But then I came to assembling the collage and that was more complicated. Particularly the tablecloth. That tablecloth caused me more trouble than the whole of the rest of the collage put together. The painted cartridge paper piece looked right colour-wise - it had, I thought, the right tones of muted green and blue shadows on a pale, grey-white background. I made a template and cut out the shape I wanted and it looked the right shape and size. But placed in position, it looked alien and monstrous. The fruit placed on it looked uncomfortable, the bowl teetered horribly above it as though it did not want to sully itself by touching it and I wondered if I could deploy a further bit of artistic licence and omit the cloth completely. But of course, it plays a vital part in the whole painting - it links the elements together; in the original it's the layout of the tablecloth and the fruit that gives not just a single viewpoint, but the two possible perspectives; it allows the fruit to nestle realistically on the table instead of looking as though someone has shoved a load of marbles onto the canvas. It had to be there. I made another template and cut a fresh piece of less thickly painted paper. I added some shadows and it looked less like a tablecloth and more like a piece of mouldy blue cheese, waiting to go in the food bin.

In desperation, I went back to the original piece, cut an extra bit which I stuck on rather randomly to make it bigger and stuck my fruit down on top anyway. I then took some water-soluble wax crayons (Caran d'Ache Neo Color II like these ones) and added creases and shadows in the appropriate colours as best I could, painting them with a wet brush to soften them and incorporate them. The result might well make Cézanne, master of perspective and with his fine understanding of drawing and structure, wince but, in the end, I am not unhappy with it. The wretched tablecloth no longer looks like a piece of mouldy, blue cheese and I have learned a lot about shadows and how vital they are. It's funny - you think a shadow is ephemeral and unimportant but actually a shadow is often what brings things to life and makes them seem real as opposed to artificial; it gives an extra dimensionality, without which things appear lifeless and cold. May be that is true in a figurative sense too about the shadows in life we encounter.

Be that as it may, the shadows have the last word - on the cloth, the water-jug, the table, the fruit itself. With them, the gathered objects glow and sing; without them they looked flat and lifeless. Looking at it now, I wonder even if I have not gone far enough with adding them. I'll leave it for now, I think, and come back to it and see whether perhaps some of them could be deepened to advantage, or whether leaving well alone is indicated.

I have so enjoyed this four week challenge - it's just been the best thing for me this summer. The posts are all on the Slamseys website (link above) so if you want to give it a go retrospectively, you still can. I've never kept an art journal before and reaching the end of the challenge and looking back, it surprises me with the story it tells about the way artistic ideas develop; about the way one thing can lead unexpectedly to another; about the threads of interconnectedness that run subconciously beneath the surface of the artistic imagination; it highlights what can sometimes be difficult to identify as one's own voice or style in a way that encourages and affirms the instinct to create, to experiment, to make mistakes and above all to enjoy the process.

I shall miss what has become an eagerly anticipated Monday morning ritual of looking to see what this week's theme and prompts are. But my journal is now almost full so may be that's just as well. Unless, of course I now move on to volume two ... which I just may have to do!

Thank you for reading these posts and for commenting, if you have. My normal, more sporadic, blogging service will probably be resumed from now on!

E x

Sunday 12 August 2018

Summer Art Journal Week Three

Week three of the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge is about 'acting like a tourist'. In other words, looking at the world with curiosity, without rush, and with openness to joining in with what the culture and lifestyle of a particular place might offer.

From an artistic point of view, it's an invitation to look around at one's environment in a fresh way. It's also an invitation to play. Being a tourist on holiday, whether at home or abroad, is as much as anything about having the time and space to 'stand and stare', to play rather than work. It suggests a mindset that says, 'why not?' instead of 'why?' in response to whim and opportunity.

These things are sometimes easier to respond to, after travelling somewhere new - the trappings of ordinary life are distanced; new sights and sounds are in front of our nose, without having to look for them; the journey itself eases us into a new mode. The difference of being in a new context, gives us permission to be more relaxed and go with a differently paced flow of living. Conversely, that can be less easy, if one has not left home.

Pondering this week's prompts, which you can find here, I started this week's 'tourist trail' by thinking about my postcard habit. This goes back a long way - as a small child I was encouraged, when on holiday, to write and send postcards home to my grandparents. In the 1970s, postcards were two a penny in any tourist attraction and as an older child, I always went on holiday with a meticulously copied out list of my school friends' addresses. I spent many happy hours, choosing cards and writing as much as possible in the space provided. (I had this down to a fine art by cultivating very neat and minute handwriting and by writing up the sides of the address panel, probably much to the Post Office's annoyance). I would then post the cards off from wherever we were - Wales, South Devon, France, Greece, Italy, or wherever. If it was a seaside holiday, the recipient probably got a card of sea and cliffs, or a landscape. If it was a city-break-type holiday, then a cathedral stained-glass window or a painting from a museum, or gallery was the norm. I loved the postcard racks of art galleries and museums. I still do. Sadly, in this day of selfies, electronic image sharing and texts, the old-fashioned postcard is a bit under threat and the ubiquitous, steeply banked racks of yore, with their dizzying array of choice, are often now sadly diminished to a more limited and demurely select few.

You can still buy them though, even if the business of acquiring stamps and locating the local post-box, in which to post them, can be something of a mission. Especially abroad. And especially if operating with limited local language skills. Trying to buy stamps for my postcards in Russia springs to mind, for example, where the Russian Post Office queuing arrangement was as clear as mud and almost impenetrable, despite the best efforts of a kind Russian in the queue endeavouring to explain to me how to short-circuit the system. I got there in the end though.

But the arcane mysteries of Post-Office protocol are not unique to Russia. Here in the UK, not twenty miles from home, in the main Post Office in Oxford, techno-post is where it's at and whatever counter you queue at, (assuming you can battle past the roaming predators seeking to deflect you to a machine rather than a human being), it's always the wrong one and unless you have a ticket from the machine, nothing happens, even if you happen to have struck lucky and got the right one. Heaven knows how foreign tourists, without much English, cope in there.

Undeterred however, I still make it my business to search out the nicest postcards I can, when I am away to send home to friends and family and to add to my own stash - I collect postcards of food still-lifes to insert in the appropriate pages of my cookery books, for a start.

Of course, posting times from abroad can mean that one is back at home before the cards one has sent have ever arrived. That never bothers me. I still get a thrill from posting abroad, wherever I am and knowing that the same card in my hand, in Berlin, Vienna or St Petersburg, for example, will arrive on my parents' doormat in due course. It's to do with a physicality of connection, I think. Sending an emailed pic of my own from my phone simply doesn't cut it.

So, this is by way of a long preamble to this week's art journalling, which you will not be surprised to hear, has revolved around exploring making my own postcards in a variety of media.

I looked through my box of assorted (and as yet unsent) postcards to identify some images I might run with as design possibilities. Old travel posters, wood-cut images, vintage-feel scenes with a bit of text, landscape paintings, still-lifes - all possible sources of inspiration.

We have a large fig tree in our new garden, planted against an old, south-facing wall which has produced a number of large, beautifully ripe fruits this year. I have been indulgently eating them for breakfast on these hot, blue-skied summer mornings. It has felt reminiscent of being in Umbria or somewhere. Very summer holidayish so I got the idea that may be I could design a lino-cut still-life postcard of figs on a plate.

My initial sketch, I quite liked - a reasonably clear and simple design that looked not too challenging to cut. Lino-cutting is not my comfort-zone - I find it hard to keep the lines clean and it's all too easy for the blade to slip and ruin the whole image. Clearing away enough depth for the space you want to leave white is not always easy either - I hate getting those tell-tale streaks on a print that say, "Ha ha! You didn't cut away enough background!". A few light streaks can add to the charm of a print but you don't want too many. The resistance of traditional lino can be challenging too, if your blades are not razor-sharp, (which mine no longer seem to be).

I wanted to print on some blank watercolour-paper postcards I had but the texture of the paper seemed to make it tricky to get a clear image. Smooth cartridge paper, cut to size, worked better although it doesn't have the heft and feel of the blank postcards. A bit of behind the scenes work on my lino block by D with an eye-wateringly sharp Stanley knife blade, to tidy up a few of my wobblier lines, was helpful too! This is one of the best prints. Most of the others are rather less good, which is a bit disappointing.

Slightly disheartened by the uphill climb of lino-printing, I moved across to explore other media. Not wanting to waste any more expensive paper, I retrieved some cardboard from the recycling bag, located a pot of gesso and got to work. I wanted a nice big canvas to play around on that I could discard without a second's hesitation, if I didn't like the results.

Once primed with gesso and dry, I added acrylic paint with a big brush to the cardboard panels, pasted down some torn book pages, from an old and damaged poetry book, picked up in a jumble sale, and then added some textured prints from leaves, bubble wrap, my trusty tomato tray and even the end of a kitchen roll tube, in acrylic paint, on top. The results were surprisingly pleasing and enabled me to cut out a good number of 'postcards'.

Like a peek? Here they are:

You'd never know they started life as old cardboard packaging! I'll never throw out a tea-bag box or Amazon book sleeve again. The thicker corrugated cardboard from the soya milk box is not quite so satisfactory but nonetheless surprisingly useable.

Scrolling around for further postcard-making inspiration and with Ellie's inspired suggestion about translating my collaged landscapes into felt in the back of my mind, I turned to textiles and thread rather than paper and paint.

A fabric postcard? Why not?

These fabric landscape postcards are just made out of scraps of fabric, appliquéd onto a base panel with Bondaweb, stitched down and then sandwiched with extra firm interfacing (Pellon Decor Bond, to be precise) and a backing panel. Looking at them now, I realise I should have cut the 'fields' with the stripes in the fabric slanting, rather than perpendicular. Too late now, however.

For the backing panel, I used a packet of photo fabric I bought for a project a few years back and never used. I found an image of the blank back of a postcard which I could download, printed off four of them to a page, wrote what I wanted, then scanned the result. I printed the scan onto a sheet of photo fabric, cut each image out and stitched it down onto a base piece cut to match the front. It's a bit of a silly conceit, I suppose, but it appeals to me! I printed the little summery quotations on the front on the same photo fabric and appliquéd them in the same way. The fabric cards are not perfect - but they are fun. I hope they will make the recipients smile, anyway. I might make more - they have possibilities, I think. And you could clearly go to town with further embellishments - beads, embroidery, buttons etc

I made six of these fabric postcards and have sent five of them out into the big wide world. I chickened out of just sticking a stamp on the fabric, in case Royal Mail's sorting machines got frisky and mangled or dirtied my efforts, in transit. But that doesn't mean the envelope needed to be boring old white, or brown. No, siree! Some of the trial gelli print papers from the last couple of weeks made nice, homemade, decorative envelopes.

D cut me a cardboard template for these - makes running them up a doddle - a quick draw round with a pencil, some quick scissor-action to shape the tabs, a bit of folding, a dab from a glue stick and Bob's your uncle. If there isn't enough white space to write the address on, I just add a sticky label, strategically positioned not to interfere with the imagery.

I love coloured / decorated envelopes and always get a frisson of delight when I receive them or find them on sale, which may be sounds strange. This beautiful one I found on sale in a bookshop in St Petersburg.

Far too nice to put in the post unless I know it will go to a fellow envelope-fancier who might keep it, (for a while anyway).

I wanted to keep one of my fabric postcard experiments for my journal but didn't want to glue the fabric to the page. One of the homemade decorated envelopes stuck on the page however, works perfectly and allows the added charm of fishing out the postcard to look at it and then tucking it away again. I know, I know - tiny things please tiny minds!

And just to finish up my postcard-making, I cut and pasted the left over scraps of the painted cardboard panels to make four extra cards. Their surface is a bit uneven on account of the different cardboard weights but that gives them quite a nice tactile quality, I think. Just need to make some more envelopes to go with them!

E x 

Saturday 4 August 2018

Summer Art Journal Week Two

The theme of the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge week two is 'A Different Perspective'. When you think about it, it's disconcerting to realise how easily our perception of things, both physically and figuratively, can get stuck in a rut and limit the possibilities of what we register.

The prompts for this week are
Beneath my feet

It took a bit of thinking before I decided where I might go with these. Not because of last week's 'blank-white-page-neurosis' but because I couldn't settle on an idea. Or may be I just used up my quota of creative inspiration last week!

I started with 'reflection'.

A stream runs across the end of our new garden so I took some photos of the surface of the water and the overhanging plants.

This was a rather interesting exercise in its own right, as the colours of the water and those of the reflections were quite different from those I would have suggested, if asked to guess beforehand. The water surface, reflecting ultimately the sky above, was a light, blueish grey even though you can see through it to the gravelly, brown bed beneath the water and the reflections of the bright green plants and ferns are a kind of olive brown, bearing little or no relation to the green of the original leaves.

The sharp distinction and simplicity of tone took me back to my gelli plate and having a go at some prints inspired by the photographs. I tried overlaying some bright green prints of the plants as well as the olive brown reflections but there just wasn't space on the paper and it all looked very crowded and messy and not the effect I was after at all. The images of the water and the reflections alone are much more striking. Less is more, as one so often finds!

Does anyone know the identity of that plant with yellow flowers in the photograph? It prints beautifully, whatever it is.

Moving on from the reflection theme, I turned to the other prompts and conflated 'pattern', 'lines' and 'beneath my feet' to come up with the following printed 'tiles'.

These images are created with prints from the soles of a number of my summer shoes. Rubber soles, which can be washed clean afterwards, obviously! I live in Birkenstock flip-flops, in a variety of bright colours, in the summer, so the coloured prints represent colourful summer shoes, treading on sun-bleached grass. The grass was printed in layers, using the ridged bottom of a plastic tray that originally contained tomatoes, as a make-shift printing stamp. I used various shades of buff, yellow, mocha, faded green and brown, softening with a sponge, where the lines looked a bit stark. I ran out of yellow printing ink, which was a nuisance and means that there isn't as much yellow in the grass as I wanted.

I am unhappy with the orange print tile. The print is blurred and the orange jars on me. I don't even have any orange shoes, but a pair of Oxygen flatties had these rather wonderful imprints of maple leaves in the sole, which were too tempting to pass up, and orange seemed a good idea at the time. Less so afterwards. I've printed directly onto the page in my book so I can't discard it, unfortunately.

The tile-effect is created by simple lines of masking tape, creating blank squares, onto which I pressed down the inked-up soles, carefully using scrap paper to cover up any squares not to be printed.

I'm much happier with the black and white version which shows the variety of pattern very clearly. Along with the Birkenstocks, I used an old pair of Sebago Docksiders, which I wear for summer walking, and a pair of Crocs I don't wear very often but keep in my shoe drawer because they're invaluable on a beach (and because they're bright pink!). The Birkenstocks and the Crocs printed fantastically - if you have a pair of either, take them to your paint pot and have a go! Just make sure you use something that will clean off completely afterwards! Water-based Speedball Relief Printing Ink is what I use and it washes off really easily, even if it's begun to dry. Acrylic paint won't wash off, once it's started to dry so avoid that, unless you are super quick at printing and know you will be cleaning up immediately afterwards.

This week's final efforts saw me return to where I ended last week - experimenting with collaged strips of watercolour-painted paper to create landscapes.

I love the clarity of line and the glowing colours of the watercolours. The first version is an imaginary landscape but the second is based on the local landscape of the Berkshire Downs and so incorporates another of this week's prompts, 'home'.

Obviously the collaged version is rather simplistic and includes a certain amount of artistic licence. The photographs show how the landscape actually looked today. But I love the process of making these. Painting different washes on heavy watercolour paper and then drawing simple lines along which to cut each section of the landscape, before carefully aligning them and pasting them down. The red 'poppies' in the cornfield are, I know, completely out of proportion, and indeed out of date, as they flowered more than a month ago and are now over, but there are plenty in June and they just evoke the summer for me.

E x

Saturday 28 July 2018

Summer Art Journal Week One

As you may have gathered from my previous post, I am joining in with the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge over the coming weeks and compiling a kind of summer art journal. You can read about the details of the challenge here, if you're interested and feel like joining in.

It's a lovely idea to anchor precious summer moments, in whatever creative way you choose.

Having made my homemade blank journal last weekend, this week has been about crossing the Rubicon of the blank page. Always difficult to break onto that clean white space for the first time and there are some helpful hints to get you across the line, along with this week's prompts here.

The title of the first week of the challenge is 'Make a Mark' which is rather liberating. Sounds much more achievable than 'record your week in sketches' or 'paint your family', or 'sculpt your own head' or something! I mean how hard can it be just to make a mark on a page? Even so, I still found it quite difficult to get over the hurdle of using that first blank page, in my whole, new, blank book. I edged round it for a day or so, while I made feeble excuses to myself that I was deciding which of the various prompts I would go with, rather than simply procrastinating, out of fear of messing up.

I found the prompts very useful. They were prescriptive enough to get me started but not so prescriptive that they were confining, or restrictive.

The first week's prompts are:
everyday objects
five minutes

I did what I usually do with these kinds of choices, settle on one (apparently definitively and irrevocably) and then follow another. I thought I would use 'everyday objects' but promptly went with 'repeat'.

Some of the repeating appears in the themes and some in the actual, creative processes. I've filled rather too many pages in my book over the week, I fear, and must be more restrained, if the book is to last the rest of the summer.

Like a peek?

I began with a very simple homemade rubber stamp, into which I carved a single hydrangea petal shape. The hydrangeas we brought from our old home, in pots, have done fantastically this year and I love their showy pom-pom heads of pink, lavender and violet flowers.

They're not easy to paint though. So I thought that may be starting with individual petals might help. Printing a single petal onto the first page was easier than starting a whole hydrangea-head painting and by the time I had repeated the print, in various shades of printing ink, the page was full of hydrangea-petal confetti and the barrier of blank-white-page-neurosis breached!

I pursued the hydrangea theme and experimented a bit with grouping prints of petals, using the rubber stamp and actual petals, inked with printing ink, as well as cutting some out and collaging them together.

Bubble printing worked less well - may be I didn't add enough washing-up liquid to the mix but I found it hard to keep the bubbles bubbly, while moving the paper across to print from the frothy mix and it was rather difficult to control where the print went on the paper. The effect is very hydrangea-flower-head-like though.

Staying with the printing medium, I used up some of the surplus ink on my gelli plate to form backgrounds for repeat printing, over the top. Assorted leaves masquerading as trees.

I particularly like these ones with pale turquoise laburnum and buddleia leaves against a dark violet-blue background and added a moon to reinforce the night-sky impression.

But a big lime-tree leaf, silhouetted in indigo, on a sunset-coloured background has worked well too.

The yellow foreground on this was a bit virulent so I used sections of iris-leaves, inked up with green, to overprint as grass. Very evocative of this summer's long hot evenings and warm nights.

I then got it into my head that trying printing using a single image and repeatedly printing different sections, while masking off others, would be interesting. It was interesting but it was also quite tricky to do and of course, I forgot to remove the mask before printing, at one crucial point, resulting in a lot of dismayed and uncouth cursing, (fortunately, no one else was in earshot), but also the uplifting discovery that it is possible to re-mask and reprint subsequently, to correct errors. The paper masks are surprisingly robust and well-behaved. If you want to give this a go, don't forget to photocopy the master image you've drawn as many times as the colours you will be printing in, to enable you to cut each of the masks you need, without problem.

I need to fix up some kind of more professional registration to make sure the printed sections align correctly with the master image placed under the gelli plate. The small post-it notes I attached to the master image and the printing sheets came adrift in transit and have resulted in some of the printed sections being 'off'.  D has been tasked with making a shallow plywood tray with two, or may be three, sides to keep everything together in the printing process, which should solve this problem, I hope.

The masked image was inspired by yesterday's rare blood moon which sadly it was too cloudy to see properly, here in Oxfordshire.

Where next? I've been painting some watercolour paper sheets in various watercolour washes to repeat the stripy night-landscape idea, in collage form.

I may use the same master image for the collage as I used for the print, or I may draw another one. The original was a bit random.

The star effect is created by sprinkling coarse salt on the wet watercolour. The only everyday object I've used in the challenge all week!

E x

Monday 23 July 2018

Creative Challenges

Blogging can be a bit like medieval agriculture. A mixture of productive and regular strip-farming, sporadic common-land grazing and sometimes leaving the landscape fallow, for months on end. The vagaries of weather, politics, and the generally unexpected were all potentially malign forces that could, and did, scupper the Medieval farmer's best-laid plans, making agriculture an even more unpredictable affair than it is today, when modern technology can, at least to some extent, even out the impact of some of these things. Blogging can be not dissimilar, I've found.

For various reasons, life has not gone quite according to plan this year. Retirement lasted less than a month before I found myself back at work, for starters, (although not full-time six or seven days a week, for which I am profoundly grateful).

Our new house feels like home which is good. Less good has been the fact that the plumbing has given way, fairly spectacularly, on no less than three occasions - once at the beginning of March when the exceptionally cold weather froze everything solid and snow blew in and settled softly on the Medieval wattle and daub and ancient beams in the loft, resulting in no water, or heating, for several days. Then the boiler and hot water system failed, resulting in another week of no water or heating, and now we have a failed soldered joint in a pipe in the kitchen and no water again. The plumber is due any minute - he will be welcomed with open arms, so to speak.

Not all these challenges, nor their underlying causes, have been so welcomed, I have to say, but sic vita.

More happily, a rather more delightful challenge arrives this week with the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge which you can read about here. Anyone can join in and, if I understand it correctly, there is no prescriptive single way of doing it - much more a question of going with individual creative grain, with a bit of encouragement along the way.

This is just what I need this summer - working within an academic structure means I now actually have a summer holiday with enough time to enjoy some creative stuff, without being against the clock all the time.

So, taking the preparation post here seriously, I thought I would look out some paper and paints etc for a bit of summer daubing / dabbling.

One thing led to another and, in the end, I spent that part of this last weekend, (when I was not baling out the bucket beneath the leak in the kitchen), making my own customised, blank art journal.

Several reasons for this. I am inexorably drawn to scrap paper when experimenting with drawing or painting. I love beautiful blank books, but I find they stifle creativity in me because I am so anxious about not messing them up with mistakes. By contrast, scrap paper (clean) out of the bin or the backs of envelopes I find very freeing. I also find A4 size paper restrictive, when used portrait-style - sort of makes me feel I have to keep my figurative elbows tucked in; landscape-style is better width-wise but it's a bit short. A3 I find, is too big - intimidating again.

But make your own book and you can pick the size and shape you want as well as choose the type of paper. I wanted the pages to be made of something that would take wet media but not expensive watercolour paper that would raise my old anxious demons about messing up, or wasting paper.

I found in Hobbycraft a lovely big pad of so-called "mixed media paper" which is suitable for paint, pastels, inks, pencil and collage - nice to paint onto; robust enough to take glue and collage materials; easy to write on - but not so expensive that each sheet must be a work of art worth framing.

Armed with a bit of research on Coptic binding, I got D to cut the paper from some of the pad to make almost-but-not-quite square pages and a couple of cover boards from a piece of Daler board. I then found an ancient and viciously-sharp, bone-handled bodkin in my grandmother's sewing box which did duty both as a bone folder to crease the pages neatly and as an improvised awl to make the required holes.

Then came the stitching. Coptic binding is a neat trick pioneered by Coptic Christians for binding very early copies of the Gospels in Egypt in the 2nd C AD. Its beauty is that it allows the bound book to lie completely flat, when open, which is very useful for modern purposes, when using fluid media such as paint, ink or glue.

I used a tapestry needle and some waxed linen thread which I found in the jewellery-making department at Hobbycraft. It wasn't too difficult to do,  although I think I will do a better job on my next attempt, now that I better understand the principles, through a bit of practice. If you're interested in giving it a go, there are some good YouTube videos on how to do it and an excellent Wikihow article here.

The journal itself is intentionally rather plain - I was originally going to use some rather lovely summery fabric for the cover boards and leave the binding exposed but I was beginning to head into the territory of a book-too-nice-to-sully-with-use, so I went for a plain pale blue, linen off-cut as the basic board covering and then made an old piece of patchwork into a rather more decorative loose cover.

The patchwork panel that forms the background for the loose cover had itself been an experiment a few years back, inspired by a little German poem about autumn. I removed the more autumnal-toned strips and was left with a more summery-feeling panel, evocative of golden, ripening crops and blue summer skies.

All that was needed was a few bright flowers appliquéd using Bondaweb and small scraps from my fabric scrap boxes.

The result is pleasing (but not too pleasing, if you're with me!) and, hopefully therefore, user-friendly on all scores.

Now to make a mark in it! (See this week's prompt here)

E x