Lots to learn

Etching. Hmm. Lovely stuff, but it’s no good having an etching press if conventional zinc plates and acetate plates are too expensive. School’s limited budget threatened to put etching out of reach for our students. However, this term we have decided to trial a roll of acetate (around 1mm thick) which is much cheaper and allegedly still offers a good result. That’s my queue for a little tentative exploration with drypoint etching. I’m a complete novice at drypoint, so it’s been a steep learning curve.

Here is an early experiment, which is far from perfection, but which taught me a whole heap of things, including:

  1. The transparent nature of the etching film means you can easily trace over a previous drawing (my sketch for last year’s Christmas card, in this case).
  2. Obviously the image is reversed when printed, so there’s a caveat to watch out for any lettering.
  3. The scratches I used for drawing were inconsistently deep, which gave a faded feel to some parts of the print. But, this could be useful in some circumstances.
  4. I used a diamond point to make the marks, but couldn’t easily see where the tip was due to the setting. This meant the drawing was really not accurate. Next time I will try a needle instead.
  5. I did not have any scrim/gimp for wiping off the plate once I’d rubbed it into the marks, so I used a scrap of linen. I don’t think it was ideal, and it took a bit much ink off in places. Also, it became clear that cleaning off in a direction perpendicular to the marks seems to help leave more ink where you want it.
  6. It’s good to dampen several sheets of paper at once, but I discovered that you should only blot them as you use them, otherwise they become too dry and don’t pick up the ink well.
  7. Caligo Safewash etching ink bleeds away from the scratched lines if the paper is a bit too wet. (But on the plus side, cleaning up is a doddle!)
  8. Remember to clean the edges of the plate, as well as the surface.
  9. I have no idea whether the pressure on the press was right or not. Perhaps when I’ve ironed out the other bugs this will become clear.
  10. I need a lot more practice, but this really has the potential to produce a nice result.

bird rose hip etching.jpeg

The good news is that I think this technique will work for our students, and offer them another (affordable) printing option to complement both their lino work and drawings. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they produce.

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Bronze Babe

I don’t know much about Jacob Epstein – which could be easily remedied, of course. But I do appreciate the way that he handled bronze. This bust, entitled ‘Third Portrait of Oriel Ross’ is on display in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and principally it was the scrunchy hair textures which attracted me. Epstein had sculpted huge hunks of lively, wavy hair, its dynamism in contrast to the smooth skin of the young model. Her pose is confident, focused, and even slightly assertive. I like it very much.

Bronze has a most beautiful quality once the patina has developed – slightly golden-orange, and yet overall dark, showing the play of light on its surface. It never ceases to make me wonder that something so durable can represent flesh so well.

Epstein bronze.jpeg

I wasn’t carrying much in the way of materials, but did have my Inktense pencils, brush waterpen and a fineliner. A decent kit for such a sketch. I wanted to convey the bronze patina, with its glints of golden light; tricky especially as with the Inktense you are trying to predict how they’ll look when you’ve added the water and let them do their thing. Maybe there should have been more darks in there for a realistic result. Since I didn’t sketch this out in pencil before diving in with pen, I failed to achieve quite the correct proportions, but I feel that the more I take this approach the more I’m forced to look carefully before committing to paper, so I’ll persist with winging it.

In retrospect I quite like the reiteration and correction lines, and the intense streaks of colour, which have saved this from being a slavishly realistic representation and offered up something a bit different. Maybe our errors are where the magic really begins?

Food for Thought

Imagine… It’s the Christmas holidays. I’ve had a rest, and now feel guilty about not making art. I have a conversation on social media with friends about said guilt and not knowing what to do. The conversation concludes with me saying I should just get on and do ‘something’. Sound advice.

So, here it is. That ‘something’. I don’t really know where it came from, other than that there was a bowl of walnuts sitting on the kitchen window ledge. How the collage element muscled in there, I’m not sure, except I am partial to a bit of that sticky fun.

But what I do know for a fact is that I enjoyed making this immensely. Cutting the newspaper was the first step, then brown Amazon packing paper for the mass of walnuts – evidently cutting individual walnuts would have been a complete time hog, so I went for them all together. A Kuretake brush pen and white gel pen sufficed for the darks and lights.

Bowl of walnuts.jpegMy biggest fear in this was that, having already cut the shapes of the walnuts near the back of the bowl and glued the paper, once I got into drawing the mass of nuts not everything would still fit together. However, providence was with me and it all worked. The blue section is glazed decoration on the bowl, but a friend thought maybe it was a draped cloth. I’m ok with that.

The jury is still out on whether to add a shadow to this, or leave it floating. My dad commented ‘it’s not pretty, but it’s interesting’, and I think he’s got a point. He also remarked that it has a print feel to it, and I would agree. I have been looking at a lot of linos recently, and I’m sure it’s rubbed off in the reduction of the walnuts to three basic tones.

It’s so interesting how one discipline cross-pollinates another. I’m pretty sure that when I return to watercolour painting I will find that my approach has been somehow modified by my recent printing experiments, as both work from light to dark in a layering process. Food for thought indeed.

Happy New Year everyone – may 2019 be full of inspiration, creativity and good times!

Cross Primate

I don’t know who this rather feisty little chap is, but he is to be found (stuffed) at the Cambridge Zoological Museum, with a padded bench very handily opposite for tired sketchers.

The way he has his tail slung casually over his shoulder appealed to me, plus his slightly cross expression. I was carrying Inktense pencils and a waterbrush, so that’s what I used, plus my trusty fineliner. It’s amusing how much this looks like an iPad sketch!

Primate Cambridge inktense

Golden girl

Well hello, I’ve missed you!

Life has got in the way this last year, my ‘new’ job as a secondary school art technician has proved to be everything I’d hoped and more. The flip side is that although I’ve continued to make art, blogging has fallen by the wayside.

I’m hoping to redress the balance in 2019, to post on a more regular basis, and catch up with old blogging friends again.

To get the ball rolling, here’s a mixed media picture I did way back in the spring. It came initially out of a concept of using gold leaf with watercolour. The results were not entirely as expected, and the collage element of the girl’s dress came as a surprise, but I felt it fitted somehow with the renegade nature of the experiment. (The source of the patterned paper was a bag I’d saved, thinking it might come in handy sometime. For once I was right!) The salt treatment on the background didn’t quite work as hoped – I suspect that the paint was a bit too dry by the time I sprinkled it. All in all, it’s a strange picture, and I’m not sure what I think about it, even now that some months have passed. I do like the crispness of the profile though.

Golden girl ink & collage

What I do know is that if I were to do this again, I’d be much more careful about where I applied the glue for the gold leaf. Although I stroked in downwards motions, the leaf seems to have its own ideas about where to stick!

Roses are Red…

…But not in this case.bTwo of these blooms were actually a beautiful peach, the other white.

Originally I had considered doing this sketch in watercolour, but chickened out, uncertain of how to depict the deeper shades between the petals.  Instead, I remembered the lilacs and irises I had previously sketched in ink, and so my favourite Parker blue-black calligraphy ink and a small brush came into play, accompanied by a little pot of water for dilution.

I confess I was dreading the tightly curled petals of the lowest flower, but in fact they were not the biggest challenge – the structure of the more blowsy petals was where that lay. Originally, the plan was to put a dark background in (which would also cover up my messy mistakes), but I’ve held off doing so as I’m not sure whether this would add to the sketch. The jury is still out.

Hopefully before the season is over I will get my courage up and get on with a watercolour rose picture. In the meantime, this will do.

rose-posy-calligraphy-ink.jpg

Are you sitting comfortably?

The V&A museum in London is a great place for sketching. On the very busy day I visited the gallery staff went above and beyond in locating me a folding stool to take with me as I mooched about looking for a sketch subject.

In a strange coincidence I ended up on the top floor furniture gallery, where there were far fewer visitors and some wonderful examples of furniture. These two chairs really appealed to me, both for their differences and similarities.

The first, older chair I neglected to read about, and now I regret my carelessness. I was attracted by its combination of elegance and comfort, and the beautiful turquoise silk upholstery.

The lower chair is by Frank Lloyd Wright, dating from 1904 – I never knew he’d had a bash at making furniture. This one’s an office chair, and seems to me to have a rather robotic personality. Although it looks rather hard and angular, maybe that’s a good thing in an office chair, keeping the user focused and away from daydreams.

V&A Chairs inktense

I first made sketches in black fineliner, and then, having carted my Inktense pencils around London, I decided that a splash of colour on these chairs would be just the thing. So that, with the help of a waterbrush, was what I did.