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 appliqu├ęd 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