Concealed paths

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At my last crit I had received mixed feedback about the piece Mysterious Paths, which I had taken on the chin, putting the piece to the back of a pile in my studio. Since then, I had worked furiously to produce other pieces, turning my emotions into energy which I had used in a positive way. However, all the while I had felt dissatisfied, having to conform by disregarding this piece, which sickened me every time I cast my eyes on it.

I was thinking about how to sum up what I had been doing with all of my other pieces…poetry, walking, using natural materials, trapping some of these in ice and wax…concealing layers and fragments…and then I had a thought about a way that I might be able to salvage this piece, making it less “obvious”, as had been mentioned in the crit. After all, I had nothing to lose, and didn’t want to be precious about leaving the piece as it stood.

I began by trying a few experiments to conceal various natural materials in layers of tissue paper; soil, ashes, a thistle and some Usnea lichen. My first few attempts failed…I had wet my brush before using Pva, and the tissue broke each time. Slowly I got the knack of the technique, brushing the glue on very slowly, and using a hairdryer to speed up the drying process.

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Concealing Usnea lichen between layers of tissue paper

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The same piece with Usnea lichen, held up to the window

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A jagged, painted thistle trapped between tissue

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The results were interesting; the PVA coating had giving the tissue more translucence, and this was especially apparent when held up to the light. Having become more confident in using the tissue and glue, I took the decision to cover over the found objects in the piece – on each of 16 square canvas boards.

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I began with the easier ones- the small stones and pebbles, then worked up to the more complicated pieces…which will remain a secret! I used a hairdryer each time, and not only did this speed up the drying process, but it actually seemed to make the tissue stretch tightly, so that it resembled a kind of skin, with foreign bodies pushing hard against it in an attempt to break through.

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I felt this was quite apt, as I was trying to show the present and the absent; the invisible landscape, the hidden paths, the concealed layers of nature and events which shaped the site, the clues waiting to be unearthed…

I really feel much more content with this piece now, and feel that covering the objects has made it stronger conceptually, and more interesting (and less obvious) aesthetically. It gives me a calm serene feeling, yet begs the viewer to touch it (gently!) and to enquire just what is underneath the “skin”.

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Painting with Natural Pigments

I wanted to experiment with something a bit more messy and natural, and using soil seemed an appropriate medium in terms of mapping the landscape. I have come across a few contemporary art cartographers who use earthy pigments in the creation of their maps; Chris Drury and Sally Darlison. I emailed them, sending them a questionnaire to answer for research for my essay, and was delighted to receive replies very promptly.

Chris is an environmental artist who works in a variety of media, from small paper based- works to large site specific installations. I came across him in an excellent book by Katherine Harmon; The Map as Art, which has been my bible of late for the work that I have been doing and researching.

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Tumulus and Dew-pond (2012)

His maps Tumulus and Dew-pond (2012), are beautiful, intriguing geometric patterns which have been woven from existing maps of locations that he wished to “marry” together as he felt they had something in common. They were pushed into concave and convex bowls to give them a 3-dimensional quality. I was interested by the fact that Chris stains his maps with soils, and natural materials found at sites, which have even included sheep droppings! To me, these maps have the sophistication and beauty of an oriental surface pattern, and at a first glance I could picture these on the robes of a Chinese emperor. I love the fact that he thinks three–dimensionally, acknowledging the raised Tumulus and the hollow of the Dew pond, yet the latter is almost an optical illusion, which could be either concave or convex, as a floating bubble.

Sally Darlison’s maps are quite different; they are bright, scorching records of her journey to the north of Australia. She mixes a variety of media, using fabric and thread dyed with the soil on the journey in the making of many of these pieces.41-e1308802417856

In Alice Colours (above) you can almost feel the burning heat of this dry Australian landscape. Her compositions are bold and attractive, the choice of colour palette apt for the areas she is illustrating.

Wanting to have a go at using pigments myself, I gathered a few jars of soils from different locations, and also some ashes from the open fire.

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I had looked online to try to find out how to make natural pigments, and firstly I noticed that many artists had used PVA as a binder. I began to mix soil into the PVA, which I have to say was horrible…texturally it was almost impossible to stir, worse than overcooked porridge!

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I began by loosely copying a map which I had made into an artists book – inspired by a walk up Inchewan Path. I was actually quite impressed with the difference in colours, even though I hadn’t prepared the pigment “properly” by using a pessel and mortar.

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Mud map Experiment 1

From different angles, I could see the raised texture of the soils, which the PVA had encouraged. These looked like views of an imaginary landscape or a path that was beckoning to be followed.

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This one (above) looks like an aerial view of barren, rugged mountains

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After more internet research, I came across the website of Sabine Brosche, who mentions other binders, such as Gum arabic, egg and linseed oil. Having some linseed oil in the studio, I decided to give this a go. It felt much more natural to use, and allowed the pigments to flow more smoothly. I played around by painting a series of overlapping abstract landscape details to create this Soilscape piece, which was just an experiment really..

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This was just an experiment, but I like the way the linseed oil made the flow of soil painting easier. One more piece I mad was a combination of soil painting and drawing, inspired by the poetry sculpture I had made a while ago… I painted  it from different angles using the soil pigments and also Quink ink, as I wanted to create a darker contrast. IMG_6581IMG_6584I then drew some details of the sculpture in pencil, over the looser painted lines. I wanted to create a small tight ball at the top which was unravelling as it tumbled down to Earth.

These pieces are all just experiments; playing with a medium which is too often overlooked, which we walk upon each day, and never give a second thought until it annoys us by dirtying our floors or clothes.

It is something I will try more in future, but with more patience. I think I will invest in a pessel and mortar, and also have ago at other binders, as suggested by Sabine Brosche. In terms of mapping, I think it is probably the most apt and relevant medium that any artist could use, as it gives a real sense of the environment and the site in question.

Making day 14_2_15

I had a making day with Caroline, Jen, Jenny, Judith and Mark. We met in the hangout at 10.30, agreed our plans then arranged to meet back at 12.30 to show our progress. My plan was to do drawing inspired by the walk I took yesterday in Comrie.

I began by looking at a photograph of roots and also thought about the route I had walked. I began to draw in an effort to combine the two…charting the twisting paths through the landscape which I had taken. I started to draw quite boldly with a white oil bar. I then used ink to fill in the negative spaces.

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I started to work some white acrylic into the negative spaces.

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Black oil bar added in the centre  and over some of the white paths.

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Sgraffito over the path and more white added into the spaces.

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Texture added into the “copse resembling the texture of the                                              fungi growing on the fallen trees.

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Close up of textures

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Another island added across the river…

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More textures added…

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I was pleased with the results of my making when we finished at 4.30. It still wasn’t quite complete, so I spent another hour adding more textures and white paint until I was satisfied.

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I feel that the process of working between negative and positive, adding and subtracting is very relevant to the themes which I am exploring in my work (presence and absence within the landscape). I have enjoyed creating this map of my walk and my memories, inspired by the uprooted trees, and possible my own uprooting from the village of Comrie.

The feedback from my group were that they liked the variety of textures I had used, and also saw many possibilities of compositions within the landscape that `i had created. Caroline thought that it would be great worked to a large scale, and I think that this is something I will certainly explore.

Goddess of the Bluebell Wood

I took my willow “goddess” to the bluebell wood for a photo shoot this morning, as I wanted to capture her amongst the bluebells before they die. I began by making her a fresh flower crown, with flowers picked from the garden, and ivy from the churchyard across the road.

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All of the flowers in the crown came from my garden, apart from the ivy

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There were still bluebells in bloom when I reached the wood, but I noticed that the bracken had started to get taller, and on closer inspection saw lots of ticks on it waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims!

With this in mind, I was a bit cautious as to where I was willing to walk, but found a few spots which had been trampled down already.

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willow_full_body_blurredI was tempted to leave her in the woods, as I thought it was the perfect setting for her to dwell in all her splendour. After a few moments of uncertainty, I took her back home to the studio, as I decided I would miss her too much if I left her here. At least I now have some decent photos of her to put on my website that I intend to build soon.

Tinder

I found this beech log covered in Tinder fungus in the Bluebell Wood (see previous post) and really saw potential in its gnarled form. Having already used tissue paper to sculpt a small tree trunk, I had similar plans for this piece, however I realised that it would be far more challenging. For the trunk sculpture, I covered half of it at a time, and then joined the two halves together.

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Due to the complicated shape of this log, I decided I would have to try another technique. I started thinking about paper pulp, but then, looking around my studio, I spotted a packet of baby wipes and I had an idea.

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I covered the log in cling film first, then dipped the baby wipes into PVA glue, and gently wrapped them over the log. They seemed to mould to the forms pretty well, so I continued to cover the whole log with them.

I left them to dry for a couple of days and here is the result:

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 The result is a lightweight organic sculpture, with a frosted transparent quality

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The semi-transparent quality of this medium could be exploited by use of illumination. It reminds me a bit of the first piece I produced for the Take Two Influences project, where I used threads to join plastic milk bottle pieces together, and used glowing lights  to highlight the threads and netting inside.

The only issue I have with this piece is the fact that it is dirty…small particles of bark and dirt (which must have slipped through the cling film) have stuck to the material, and for me, it spoils the look of the piece.

I though about how best to present it, and after a lot of contemplation, I decided I would fix it onto a piece of canvas board, and spray the whole piece white.

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‘Tinder’ (baby wipes and acrylic on board) 

I’m really quite satisfied with the final result of this, and this is a method I will employ again to document other interesting aspects of the landscape. I like the minimal, contemporary feel of this piece, and feel it was the right decision to paint it white. I will, however, try this technique using objects which are less challenging in terms of shedding residual dirt, as I still want to explore the transparency of this new material I have discovered.

Tissue trunks

I found these two birch trunks a few weeks ago at Rashielea wood (see previous post) and decided to cover one of them in tissue to make a sculptural piece from it.

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I chose to use the one with the branch stumps, as it looks a bit more tree-like and has more of an interesting texture. I started by covering it in cling film, to allow me to remove the tissue easily once it was dry.

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I began to cover half of it with unbleached tissue paper and a solution of PVA and water. I used the hairdryer to speed up the process and this allowed me to rub over the dry areas to capture the texture of the tree through the paper. I reminds me of the woodchip wallpaper that covered the walls of my house when I was small.

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After repeating the process with both halves of the trunk, I used double sided tape to fix the overlaps together, before covering the joins with more tissue, to make the piece look as seamless as possible. There was an occasion where I was short of time, and didn’t have the hairdryer at hand, so I just left the tissue to dry naturally. This does affect the detail of the piece, and I realise now that this was a mistake I will not make again.

20140511_192515Almost completed, and hanging up in my cluttered studio. Still need to remove the cling film though at this stage.

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The finished piece, photographed outside my studio, as I can’t find a white space big enough at the moment

I’m quite pleased with the final result, although I’m unsure whether to spray the piece white, as I’m not terribly keen on the greyish colour of the unbleached tissue. I’m going to leave it as if for the moment, as I’m worried that the texture might become lost if it is covered in paint.

Making Day 30/11/13

I have been taking lots of photos of trees on my Thursday and Friday dog walks, and have been fascinated by the amazing patterns in the bark, depending on the variety of the tree. I decided that I wanted to use some of these as inspiration to make my art from on Making Day and felt that I had plenty of original reference materials.

So, yesterday, having sourced a very long lead to get wifi from the house to the studio, I went online in the hangout with Angela (our lecturer), Mark in Thailand, Roshni in the Seychelles, Debjani in Oman, and Jane in England. We all chatted about what we planned to do over the course of the day, and agreed to meet back in the hangout at 12.30.

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I had a quick scan of my photos, and chose one which I thought that I might get a lot of mileage from, in terms of patterns to draw or print from. I decided to concentrate on drawing the patterns which I could see in the bark onto A2 cartridge paper with a graphite pencil.

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The more I looked, the more I saw, and had to choose carefully how much of the pattern I would put down onto the paper, as I could have potentially been drawing for days! I limited the drawing to line only, as I felt this would make the shapes and patterns clearer. After a few coffee breaks here and there, I had completed the first drawing, but felt completely drained with all of the concentration required to produce the piece. I felt that it had been a very worthwhile exercise though, as now I had  a huge amount of shapes and patterns to develop more work from.

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Having about another 40 minutes left before going back into the hangout, I decided that I would do more drawing, as having plenty of work to develop further is always reassuring, so next I chose a photo of a nook in a tree to work from.

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I made this study slightly smaller, so that it could potentially be traced onto a piece of lino and carved if I felt the need. Again, I found a lot of interesting shapes and patterns, and started to think that this piece would look good made in wire, or perhaps as a piece which could have mobile elements within, which are able to spin or move around inside the larger shape.

Finally, I decided to do a quick study of some of my conker collection, so I laid them out onto a sheet of cartridge paper, and made some very simple line drawings, enjoying the different positions of the central circle shapes within each individual conker.

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It was now nearing 12 noon, so I decided to photograph what I had done so that I could upload it into google drive. Unfortunately after many unsuccessful attempts, I gave up, and had to join the Hangout with nothing to show on screen, apart from the work that I held up to the web cam, but which was unfortunately not very clear at all. With promises to upload it later that afternoon, I left the hangout after half an hour of discussing what we all hoped to achieve that afternoon, and managed to sort out the Bluetooth issue and got my work into a presentation ready for later.

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My next plan was to make a monoprint of my first drawing, and I started my fixing my drawing to the desk with masking tape, laying acetate over the drawing, and tracing over the drawing with paint (onto the acetate). I decided to keep my colour palette limited to white and off whites, as I really love the minimalism which a white palette can achieve. I chose a large, interesting shape within the drawing, and started to paint over it with Windsor and Newton Titanium White oil paint. After ensuring that the paint was thick enough, I placed the acetate over a piece of beige, fibrous, handmade paper and rubbed down over it  with a baren to make the print.

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The print was fine, and I also quite liked the acetate, so I decided to keep this instead of wiping it clean to reuse. I thought that perhaps it may be used for something, but I wasn’t quite sure what at that stage.

For the next print, I wanted to mix up a slightly different shade of white, so I added a very small amount of Ultramarine oil paint into the Titanium White, so that the second printed area could be distinguished from the first printed shape. I took a new piece of acetate, laid it over the drawing, and started to paint in a different area of the drawing with the blue- white mix. Again, I laid the same piece of beige fibrous paper down and placed this second piece of acetate over it carefully, to line up the print in the correct area. I rubbed down again with the baren, this time rubbing on both sides, ie through the paper, and through the acetate.

This time, when I lifted the acetate off, I was surprised buy the beautiful yet subtle impression that had been made, due to the fibres in the paper creating an extra unexpected pattern. It almost reminded me of frost on a window, and then I got the idea that it could be used like a window, so that the viewer could look through one acetate print to see another behind it. The only problem was that the acetate that I had used was far too bendy, having been store in a roll, so I had to think of how I could get around this problem. Luckily I had some stronger, thicker perspex plates in stock so I decided to try to reprint the thin acetate prints onto the perspex.

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I decided to print the “frosty” print first, as it was the most recent and should still be wet. I rubbed really hard, but placed newsprint paper over the surface so that I didn’t scratch the perspex. The result was pretty good. I tried to print from the other acetate (the first print) but unfortunately the oil paint had dried up, so it didn’t work. The only option was to repaint the shape again and take another print, which would be time consuming, but worth it in the long run.

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I did this, and realised that by this point time was running out, and it was about ten to four. I thought that only way that I could present and photograph these transparent prints was to hang them from the ceiling, one in front of the other, and perhaps I would need to shine light up at them, and this may also create shadows….

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I threaded fishing wire through the holes, and got out four hooks, which I quickly screwed into the ceiling. I hung the “frosty”, more subtle print in front of the other more bold, larger shaped print, and quickly adjusted the fishing wire so that they were hanging at the same height.

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Then I grabbed the anglepoise lamp, quickly pointed it up towards the prints, and took a few shots from different angles. I would have liked to play more with the light, and experiment with shadows etc, but I did not have time. I think this is something I will do at a later date, for my own satisfaction.

With just a few minutes to go, I Bluetoothed my photos to my Macbook, and uploaded them into the presentation I had started earlier, then uploaded it onto GDrive, sharing it with the other members of the group.

It was really interesting to see what everyone had made that day, and very inspirational too! Mark had also chosen to work with monoprinting as a technique, but more with a slant towards his photography. It was interesting that we had both used a similar process, but had ended up with very different results.

On reflection, I felt that the subject matter that I had chosen to work with was really substantial, and that there was a lot of scope to use it further within my art work. Yesterday I had only really scratched the surface of what I could do with it, and how I could use the beautiful natural patterns of the trees to create abstract pieces.

Also, thinking back to my tutorials with Caroline and Angela, we discussed the fact that i should try to combine my interest in 3D and installation with my printmaking. Perhaps this process of “deconstructing” a print, by taking shapes or colours which make up a print and printing them onto separate plates, then viewing them in a variety of ways in relation to each other might be a way of taking this forward…

Finally, I have to say that although I was kind of anxious about the Making Day, I actually really enjoyed it, and found that focussing on a set task within such a short given time frame was really useful and challenging. I was also rather pleased with my work that I had produced, although yet again serendipity did play quite a role in the outcome!