From Experience to Art

A while ago (May 2015) I posted some of the watercolours that I made in Greece in spring this year. I’d intended to leave some ‘digesting’ time before I tried to work from the ideas that emerged from that trip. There was so much that it was quite overwhelming – which is probably why I’ve left it so long before getting focused.


This is the first painting I made, working from the small watercolours of this profile of the acropolis in Athens, but bringing in some of the imagery and ideas associated with it. I wanted to somehow refer to the turmoil and assaults that it so often suffered, but also to the theatre that flourished so long ago and has survived for us. I also wanted to include the haunting caryatids of the Erechtheum whose serene images still gaze over millions of visitors (OK, I know there’s one in the British Museum and the others there are copies now).

This began as a transparent watercolour (about 16 x 18 ins) with the caryatids drawn out in resist on a grey background before the gold sky was painted – I wanted them to float and seem timeless. The bright colours of the slopes come from theatre. The little red warriors climbing the hill are painted in acrylic and the visiting crowd of modern people is a relief print that I’ve used many times before to represent ourselves. I like this connection between new work and previous ideas. This painting is finished now, but I’m thinking about making a woodcut or etching to use as a monoprint plate to make a variable series.

I will be showing this painting as part of our Open Studios event on December 5/6th – see for details.


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The woodcut that went wrong and then right

You might remember that I finished a woodcut of daffodils recently. The idea came from seeing a field of early daffodils in Cornwall in February, with a grey and misty St Michael’s Mount appearing to float behind the drift of yellow. I printed the daffodils three times in different ways, then printed the St Michael’s Mount in the mist above it. Unfortunately, this really didn’t work how I’d expected. The top print looked very separate from the lower one and distracted from the daffodils, which had an integrity of their own. I left the prints on the wall for quite a while, reluctant to lose the idea of early daffodils with the Mount behind them, until I said these words to myself and realised that I could print the Mount immediately behind the daffodils and keep the tightness of the square of flowers.Early daffodils 3

I was very pleased to have a solution that I like. In this print the daffodil plate is printed twice, once in yellow and once in pale green, with a quarter turn over the first. The St Michael’s Mount was printed last in a very transparent pale violet which was blotted off the first two colours – I will print it first in future! It’s a new plate too, larger so that it fits well in the centre of the square.

There are two more of this first experimental group, each printed a bit differently. The one below has a random texture in greens and yellows with the daffodils printed just once in yellow and the second one has stronger colour rolled and printed over the daffodils.Early daffodils 1

Early daffodils 2

The original print had a smaller St Michael’s Mount printed under a print of wood grain above the daffodils. Here it is with the new larger Mount printed over the daffodils while I was experimenting with how it might work better. First proof

I liked the Mount and wood grain, so I separated it from all the daffodil prints. So I now also have three smaller prints of the Mount in the mist and I’ve added a line of people walking out to the island. This needs a bit more refining, but I like the general direction!Mt with people

Although many people use printmaking as a method of making repeatable images, my approach now is much more about making repeatable elements that can contribute towards building up layered and variable images.


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Getting Focused

My art ideas come so directly from my experience that I sometimes find it very difficult to focus on one project when something else throws up possibilities. We’ve been in France for the last two weeks, Brittany and right by the Atlantic on a rocky coast. P1020614The light there is beautiful – clear and bright with colours singing and strong tones. I took watercolour because it’s so convenient to travel with, but I so often find myself doing very traditional studies, nothing like the work I’m really interested in doing, which would draw from this but be much more layered and complex. P1020615So now I’m back in my studio and find that I’ve three projects all wanting attention! I’ve made several prints of the daffodil field woodcut, but it needs resolving and there are additional elements to print to extend the story. There is also all the research from my work in Greece that I’ve barely begun to develop. Now I’ve revived my interest in the material collected in Brittany over many years. This is mostly about the prehistoric remains there, standing stones rather than these sea views. P1020616

So I’ll be leaving these watercolours for the time being, to focus on developing the ideas from Greece and to make some completed prints of the daffodil field. Probably…


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Art in Athens

1 contrastPaul and I have just returned from a wonderful art research trip to Greece, with full sketch books, lots of small watercolour paintings, far too many photos, pages of journal notes, a pile of very heavy books and a number of museum replicas. 2 a brighterOur memories are full of spring flowers, pale columns against a deep blue sky, the shining cliffs and mountains of Delphi and the constant distinctive presence of the Acropolis, crowning the skyline of Athens. 3 as isSo I’m feeling overwhelmed at the moment, but excited by the many new ideas and challenges that are beginning to emerge! P1020258These are a few of the watercolour sketches I made of the acropolis in Athens. At the time I was just trying to catch something of the colour and light as it changed. Now I’m working on developing something about the glimpses of it’s turbulent history that I have from the sculpture, fragments of pots and evidence of past lives.6 brighter I’m not sure yet whether to work in paint, print or something else, so I’m starting by linking the watercolour skyline with some of my sketch book drawings of figures from pots. More news later!


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January Blues

I always find January difficult! I want to make a positive start to a new year, but there’s such a gap in ‘normal’ life over Christmas that I lose touch with my practice, particularly if I’ve completed a project and need to get started on something new.merry m woodcut proof

I did print the Merry Maidens woodcut before the break, but there were a few details to sort out and I worked on that again to get started this year. I like that image in black and white, but I also made a print of the Men an Tol image that I’d put in a blossom surround and I’m wondering whether to try that in colours an tol woodcut proof

I had a project in mind that I was very unsure how to start, but the deadline is approaching and that always provides some impetus! The idea is that a group of people who are still in touch and who studied at Bath Academy of Art before the mid-1980s, should each make a small work that can be mounted to form a ‘Matchbox Museum’ to exhibit together.  It’s a challenge, because the size is 47x35mm – which turned out to be tiny when I drew the rectangle. It’s supposed to be representative of our work now, but nothing I’ve made before is that small! I started trying to build up some ideas, but nothing seemed to fit. Then I tried cutting it out as a frame and holding it over some of my work to see if anything might work on that scale. First, I realised that the new line of figures I’d made was just the right sort of size in height – much too long, of course.small figs vinyl

Then I was very surprised to find that fragments from older prints worked well together in colour and marks, so I chose tiny sections that hinted at woodland and seascapes. I found I could collage these with sections from the line of figures and suddenly these tiny scenes look very much like some of my recent work. Now I’ve made three and I think of them as ‘Winter Walks’.little walks

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