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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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. The 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. So 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.
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…
Paul 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. Our 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. So I’m feeling overwhelmed at the moment, but excited by the many new ideas and challenges that are beginning to emerge! These 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. 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!
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.
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 now.
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.
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’.
This year we moved house and studios, so most of our paintings and prints have been wrapped up and stored away for months. We’ve gradually been sorting them out again as we’ve made new studio spaces and opened our new town-centre studio/gallery in Worthing. It’s been an interesting experience to see older work again. I’d expected to feel pleased to meet familiar friends again, but I often found myself revisiting ideas behind the work, subjects and themes that are still current for me. One example is this etching, based on the Merry Maidens stone circle near to Lamorna in Cornwall. The story is of local girls who were on the moors here on a Sunday and they heard pipers playing, so danced to the tunes and were turned into stone! I’ve been attracted to this circle for a long time and visit it most years, usually in winter and when it’s freezing, but often bright. The circle has a special atmosphere on these moors, with distant views and nearby pipers also turned to stone. I’ve made many drawings, sometimes struggling in wind and rain, which have led to making prints and paintings whenever I found more to explore in the ideas.
When I unwrapped this painting I’d made some years ago, I remembered that I had always felt not quite right about it. I thought the pink and yellow too ice-creamy and the ovals not working at all as a suggestion of mushroom circles. I wanted to connect the images of dancing maidens to the stones more directly and build in more of a feeling of the contrast of movement and stone. I reworked it using layering over the original painting, an approach that I wouldn’t have tried at that time. I found that my more recent approach of building up images in layers and adding fragments of imagery in the layers gave me a new way to consider this subject and offers the viewer more opportunities to engage and interpret.
After a recent visit to Cornwall in November, I feel reconnected with these ideas, so I’m starting a new woodcut. I’m doing this in the studio/gallery and will still be working on it on Saturday and probably next week. I’m not sure at the moment where this first plate will take me – I might make second or third plates to print over or under it or make layers in other ways. I might find that I want to cut the plate up to use the elements separately – I don’t know yet and I don’t know when I will know. This is a lovely stage to be at in a project, because the development of the work will show me directions to take and it will develop as we negotiate with each other.