Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Unit X Post 7

I am pleased that I have been single minded about my product outcome for this unit and not been tempted to diversify into other areas which could have led me off course.  I wanted to focus on working with this hand process and not reproduce it digitally.  I like the fact that there will perhaps be a very small market for hand printed wallpaper and this encourages me to continue working with a traditional print process.   I have found it quite difficult to find other people working in a similar way, although this gives me confidence that what I am doing is somewhat unusual and inspires me to pursue it.

Before the degree show I will be creating a website and business cards, the talk Alex gave about online portfolios was extremely insightful and showed how valuable the internet can be when it comes to promoting oneself.  I have decided to use Wix to create a website.  I want to make it easy to navigate, with a simple layout and clear text and images, I will continue to work on and improve the website after the course. 

I have loved working with the 175 years old Columbian printing press this year. The physical action of using the press feels a long way from sitting at a sewing machine or designing at a desk, I like the physical activity needed to produce a print.  Although it has been a great friend to me this year and I will surely miss it, I do not think it is ideal for printing wallpaper as it was originally designed for printing newspapers with letterpress.  My first challenge after we leave will be to find a suitable press. 

Marthe Armitage who I have previously looked at uses an old lithographic proofing press; a large roller picks up the ink from her 21 inch wide lino cut and transfers it to the paper.  From a video I have seen it looks to be very effective, but I still like the idea of the wood making physical contact with the paper.  If I am not able to find a suitable press, I will consider having one made.  I would be collaborating with my cousin on this project, he has built his own house from scratch and he has offered to design a wallpaper printing press with me.  He has suggested using a hydraulic system for this.  I look forward to being involved with this and being able to continue working with hand-carved woodblocks and exploring different design possibilities.

I have really enjoyed all parts of this unit and I am very happy with the way I have been working.  I am sad that my time at MMU is over, I have loved the experience and I have felt very privileged to have been on the course.  I hope I can progress and continue to work as an artist in the outside world.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Unit X Post 6

Printing Lengths
Printing first length on the Columbian press
Second length drying - busy at the bottom, more minimal at the top
Third length on the bed of the press - printing over blocked off circles
I thought about making a wallpaper book to show samples for the degree show, but I decided that I wouldn’t be able to show the different layouts I have tried in such a small space.  For the degree show I am aiming to have 3 floor to ceiling samples with around 8-10 variations on these prints to accompany them.  Some will incorporate more or less elements than others, some busy and others less so.  

blocks with ink/no ink
I have found it extremely challenging to join the blocks up perfectly every time.  It is a really delicate process placing the block on the paper, there is only one chance to get it right, because of this every print is slightly different in the way it joins and the thickness of the ink sometimes varies.  I tend to be a perfectionist by nature and I am learning to embrace the imperfections that come with this hand process, I have been gradually realising that the quirks and imperfections that happen along the way are all part of it and only add to the handmade feel.

Tools used to hammer, scratch and mark the wood to build areas of texture
working on side of cupboard

Working on this carving alongside printing my other blocks has been satisfying; I have really enjoyed it because it has been more like working on a painting or drawing, building areas of texture.  It has felt more immediate and there has been the opportunity to be more flexible, I was less worried about keeping it as precise as my other carvings.  I will be using a burnishing technique to take a print from this carving, the same process I saw Merlyn Chesterman demonstrating at Art in Action in Oxfordshire.  She vigorously rubs the paper onto the print to pick up the ink with the back of a wooden spoon or her Japanese bamboo burnisher.

Merlyn Chesterman burnishing her large lime woodcut

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Unit X Post 5

Carvings before varnishing

Having finished the carving, I now have to concentrate on colour and layouts.  It is not easy mixing colours with the thick oil based ink as they take a long time to blend.  I sent off for some new ink from Intaglio printmakers in London and I spent a couple of days mixing and testing colours.  I originally had in mind a blueish colour palette, however looking at the prints I found a coral colour that I was happy with.  I also experimented with bright red, gold silver etc.  I decided to eliminate the blue all together in favour of a greeny turquoise.  I am a bit out of my comfort zone with these brighter shades; however I wanted to try and use colours that are not typically associated with traditional block printing.

I have found it can take up to half an hour to remix a particular shade of colour and get the right consistency of ink.  This feels quite frustrating; it is very different to painting and can often feel very limiting.  It is hard to be creative when it takes so long and can sometimes be quite disheartening.  This is probably the only negative side of printing and takes a lot of patience.

Colour testing

I started painting the wallpaper with Annie Sloan chalk paint which gives the paper more of a texture.  Changing the colour behind the print completely alters the mood of the design.  I saw the very old wallpapers in the Victoria and Albert museum archives and admired the chalky textures they had.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint for backgrounds
I started experimenting with different layouts and combinations of the blocks on the wallpaper, It seemed there could be endless different ways of combining colours and design layouts, however I realise I will only have a couple of weeks to experiment before I need to decide on the final designs.  Time in the print room seems to go very fast and I often wish it was open later than 4.30.

Samples on wallpaper

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Unit X Post 4

Inking up the block.   First proof prints drying in print room


It is always exciting seeing a block printed for the first time; I’m so relieved they print evenly.  Looking at my first proof prints, I can see that it is good to have areas of precise, neat cutting contrasting with more sketchy, natural-looking areas.  I have found it easier to carve a straight line than it is to carve an uneven one, and I constantly needed to remind myself to try and include areas of sketchiness and spend more time on these.  With this in mind, I have decided to take on the challenge of doing a much larger carving, avoiding so many straight lines and going back to my very first experiments I did for the practice unit (below).

For this larger more experimental carving I wanted to recycle a piece of distressed wood from an old door or table.  I had my eye on the door of our shed (below) because it was quite worn and needed replacing, but I found the wood to be too hard and I could not cut into it easily, however we had an old pine cupboard covered in cobwebs with rusty nails sticking out the sides.  I like idea of using the side on an old cupboard to carve into; the wood has more character and feels more unique. 

I saw Mokhlesur Rahman’s impressive prints on silk scarves at Venice Biennale in the summer holidays.  These large uninhibited carvings are inspirational.  

As I was concentrating on making the carvings so detailed, I realised that I possibly had not allowed for the background colour to show through as much as I would have liked.  To resolve this I experimented with making the print fade down the middle by blending a darker shade at the edge with a lighter shade in the centre to try and break up the image and make it look less busy.  I briefly experimented with technique this for the last project; I think it will be useful for adding depth to the prints and a way of varying the colour palette. 

Galbraith and Paul - An American duo specialising in hand block textiles and wallpaper, I like their philosophy that they care about the process of making just as much as the finished product.  I am especially drawn to the way their colours are blended in such a subtle and distinct way.  

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Unit X Post 3

Easter Holiday

My new wood has arrived, however I am having some trouble with it warping.  It took a whole day of sanding to make the wood flat enough, fingers crossed it doesn’t warp any more.  I like having deadlines and planning my work, but I don’t always allow for things to go wrong.  I have been told that wood dries out from the edges so I must seal the ends with varnish as soon as I can.  I am also worried that the large carvings will not print successfully as I have not printed with wood this large beforeI am really hoping to finish all the carving before we start again next term.  It feels like a huge risk leaving all the printing to the last few weeks. I just hope I do not encounter any further technical problems.  I need to decide on a colour scheme and start preparing paper, as I have found in the last project takes a really long time.

I started carving the smallest block first as I remember from the last project my carving improves with practice.  I am using a wider range of tools now and learning how to use them in different ways, for example I can make more uneven lines by using the v shape tool on its side.  I find it useful to work on several blocks at once so I can leave a carving and come back to it with fresh eyes so I stop focusing on a particular part and look at the imagine as a whole and do my best to image what it will look like as a print.
Tracing my drawing onto the wood

Bryan Nash Gill uses sections of tree trunks to make his relief prints.  Every type of tree has its own unique markings that tell a story of its life.  This is such a simple idea, but extremely effective.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Unit X Post 2

Sketches of my arranged scenes

First carving
During the long time it takes to carve a block, I can only imagine what it will look like when finally printed.  Sometimes they are better that I expect, and others I am not completely happy with immediately.  I am instinctively drawn to making my designs quite busy and crowded, and I usually need to remind myself to leave enough space around the objects.  I try to find a good balance between printed image and blank space.  Below are images of my first carving.

First carving in progress
Carving is hard work at first and progress is slow until the image takes shape and then it is enjoyable.  Whilst carving there is plenty of time to think, and I try to image how it will be when the course is over, I will need to be commercially aware to develop my practice into a business. 

Having problems with the wood

My plan was to do one carving a week, and I was not anticipating a hold-up such as the one I have had this week.  I made an eager start on my next carving, tracing it onto the wood as usual, but as soon as I started carving I realised there was a problem with the wood.  The mistake I made was to carry on when I should have stopped straight away and tried to locate more wood.  I am not sure of the exact reason why, but it seems to be extremely soft in places and it was extremely difficult to carve a straight line.  My original source of lime wood did not have the size of wood I needed so I had to go back to Oxford and buy this expensive piece of wood and get it planed at yet another place.  However all this was a waste of time, I will re do the carving over Easter.  Locating the correct wood has been really difficult; especially wood that has been dried long enough.  This has been a tough week, but a valuable lesson, in future I must remember to test the wood before I start work on it.  

Friday, 14 March 2014

Unit X Post 1

Starting Unit X
I spent a long time deliberating over what would be the subject for my new carvings.  I began in a similar way as I started the last unit by deciding what I didn’t want to do, I didn’t want a repeat flowery pattern or anything that was just a pattern on its own.  I spent several days in the library looking through photography, graphic design, illustration etc. and anything else that wasn’t related to textiles or interior design.  I was happy with the last project and the inspiration I took from Ernst Haeckel with its organic shapes of sea urchins and other unusual micro-organisms, however I had a feeling that I wanted to use something that was more personal, something I could actually draw from and something I could be more inventive with.

For this project I will be taking the inspiration for my woodcuts from the idea of collecting and arranging possessions.  I will set up still life scenes using the considerable amount of curious objects that have gradually been accumulating in our family home.  These objects feel quite close and personal to me as I have grown up with them all around me.  I will carefully select items that I am fond of and that interest me and I will use these to arrange still life scenes from which I will draw directly.  

My photographs of collected objects

I had some different ideas for displaying the objects such as having them hanging from branches, in a bowl, clustered in a glass jar, balancing on the steps of a step ladder, or in a nest as if they were gathered by a magpie.  The way I have arranged the objects has derived from my fascination with the early cabinets of curiosities - an eclectic assortment of items all jostling for space on one shelf.

I have enjoyed using collected objects for work in previous years, images below show the collection I gathered from my dad’s overcrowded shed; it was a real obstacle course to climb over the clutter to find these items.  For the final piece I produced, all the objects were brought together for a city landscape.

System Board City - embroidered piece for first year unit x at Hotspur House

Waste Not Want Not

I visited a really interesting exhibition in 2012 at the Barbican by artist Song Dong.  It was an installation of over 10,000 possessions collected by his mother over five decades.  After his father died his mother became very depressed, she had always hoarded and collected and this only became worse, she used the objects to fill the emptiness.  The rest of the family had to store what she couldn’t fit in her house; Song Dong had the idea to include her in his work as an artist, so her possessions became his art.  The family gets together for every exhibition to lay out the items and rekindle memories.  Organising her possessions made her happy and when all laid out they told the story of her life.  None of the items were particularly worth anything apart from sentimental value.  I like the Chinese value of ‘waste not, want not’ but I don’t think I could take it this far.  
My photos from the exhibition - empty toothpaste tubes, folded plastic bags..

Whilst researching, I came across a book called ‘A passion for Collecting – The art of Displaying Objects from the Exotic to The Everyday’ it is a fascinating insight into other people’s collections of possessions.  When I was growing up I was often intrigued by the minimalist d├ęcor of my friends’ homes; they felt so different compared to my own.  Below are some images I found in the book.

I wanted to make a block that was 21 inches wide, which is the size of the wallpaper I have been using; however I know I can be more flexible with smaller blocks as I can arrange them and combine them in different ways. I have increased the scale of my blocks since the last project as I know how long it takes to cover a large area using the Columbian press.  I have been quite mathematical with the sizes this time, as I did not take this into consideration in the last project, I did not think about how the blocks would fit into the 21 inches, in fact the stripes I was using fitted three and a half times across the width and I had to put newspaper down the side when printing, which was not ideal.  This time I have been more careful with how the blocks fit into the 21 inches, whilst still leaving room for experimentation when I come to print them.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Post 15

Hothouse Scheme
I have looked into this support program run by the Crafts Council, it runs for 6 months from January to June and it aims to help new graduates hoping to start their own business.  This is something I would definitely consider applying for. It is very daunting that I will no longer have the support of college in a few months and financial concerns will become very real.

For the most part of this project I have been working on the technical aspects of what I want to do.  I feel I will have more room to be creative and experimental with shapes, images and layout in the coming project

Unit X
My current project will relate directly to Unit X as I will continue carving and printing with woodblocks, however I aim to develop the type of imagery I work with and would like to use colour combinations and layouts that I will be proud to present.

I realise that I have not focused on making clear-cut collections of prints as much as I have on experimentation.  This project was more about testing ideas and gaining experience of the printing process.  During the next project I want to build a more focused, cohesive group of collections.

Overall I have really enjoyed this unit and I think I have continued to develop a better understanding of my own personal way of working and I have really benefited from being involved in this project.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Post 14

Visualisations of some prints in interior settings drawn in black pen and pencil and assembled in photoshop
These took a long time to make, but I am pleased with the outcome 
Finished Note-card/Stationary Box Set
Set of 6 prints to accompany 3 metre length

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Post 13

Printing a 3 metre length of wallpaper
block in position ready to be rolled under press
If I were marketing these designs, colour ways could be changed according to the customer’s taste, All designs could, if desired be printed in a colour scheme hand selected by the customer, in this way the client can play a more active role in the design process and the wallpaper will feel more personal. 

Spring Fair Birmingham NEC (National Exhibition Centre)

This is a trade show for gift, home ware products etc. there are many hundreds of exhibitors on show.  I was overwhelmed by the volume of products on sale, a yearly visit to this show and there is no need to look around any shops.  Very few products had a real artisan feel, although many were attempting to look like one-off handmade items rather than mass produced products.  The variety of imagery being used in stationery, fabrics etc. was immense and made me realise how challenging it is to come up with something new and different.  Good imagery stood out and it was an eye opening experience.  It was interesting to view the exhibitors competing against one another; some were a jumble of different colours and ideas, others displayed more clear-cut collections, and I was reminded once more that often less is more.  It was evident which stands worked and which did not.  

Daniel Heath, a successful independent wallpaper, textile and surface designer came to talk to us about his work. I was interested to see that he used the same two designs for the majority of his work, only varying the colours on request.  It had not occurred to me that an artist/designer may need to stay with a certain design if it is successful in order to make a living, my college experience has been very much about trying to be experimental and constantly thinking about doing something different.  Hopefully in the future I will still have the opportunity to be experimental and challenge myself.  I had not realised that over time a designer becomes known for a certain style and can get stuck in rut, it can be a gamble to change designs as they are at risk of losing their valuable client base.  This is obviously a big subject which I had not previously considered.  He also mentioned that designs can have a masculine or feminine identity, I will be aware of this from now on.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Post 12

Some new prints 
As I am learning Italian this term, I have decided to give an Italian name to each separate collection which I have divided according to the type of block used to print them

Insetti  (insects)      – using the insect blocks
Davanti al Mare  (at the bottom of the sea)      – using the two stripe blocks
Verdi dal Mare  (leaves of the sea)    – using the 3 square blocks
Forme Naturali sotto il Mare  (Natural forms under the sea)       -using laser cut and 3 circular blocks

On reflection these names might sound slightly pretentious, but for now I am enjoying my Italian lessons.

I have chosen one of the prints using stripes and circles that I think works the best and I am going to produce a set of variations on this particular print which will all complement each other and follow the same colour scheme.   Some will incorporate more or less elements than others, some busy and others less so.  As part of the set I want to give myself the challenge of printing a 3 metre length of wallpaper on the Columbian press.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Post 11

Reflection on laser cutting

I found that although the laser cutting itself was surprisingly fast, the preparation took a lot longer, which I was not expecting.  I spent three days on preparation and it took only 37 minutes to cut.  It almost felt like cheating after hand carving.  This process could have lots of potential and I will consider using it again, I could possibly use a combination of hand and laser cutting.  It is very effective for doing larger cuts with finer detail, however when carving by hand I sometimes like to change and adjust the image as I go along which is not possible with laser cutting.
I wanted to add something to the laser cutting – my final 3 carvings of this project.  I normally spend a long time carving my blocks, from several hours to 2-3 days, so I decided to try some much faster carvings 30 mins-1 hour. Taking marks from my drawings I carved into blocks of cherry and yew – a jagged rock, a small round coral form and a cluster of pointed star-like anemone.  I like the organic outline of the blocks and I think the simplicity of these could be really effective, I will try combining and overlapping them.
Colour mixing with my new brayer on large glass plate in print room
Galbraith and Paul
An American duo specialising in hand block textiles and wallpaper, they must be successful because they have featured in almost every recent issue of House and Garden Magazine.  I think the complexity of their designs are just right, not too busy, not too simple.  I like their philosophy that they care about the process of making just as much as the finished product.  I am especially drawn to the way their colours are blended in such a subtle and distinct way.  I have bought a small 2.5 inch roller specifically to try this.
Here are some samples for my live brief some of which I have tried blending the colours with my new roller.  The live brief has been the perfect opportunity to be more experimental with colour combinations.  It has also given me insight into how my woodblock print designs could be used for an entirely different context.